LOMAX: Solar trade barriers won’t help American workers

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Washington, D.C., December 13, 2017 | comments

There’s nothing wrong with a vigorous debate over where, when and how we get the energy needed to run our households, businesses and the broader economy. But too often, the debate over energy policy is falsely portrayed as an all-or-nothing, zero-sum game.

In reality, it takes a mix of different energy sources working together to support our way of life. Politicians and political campaigners who suggest otherwise, pitting the different energy sources against each other in a winner-take-all contest, are just wrong on the facts. No single energy source can meet 100 percent of our needs. In a growing economy, there is enough room for all energy sources to play their role, and we need them all to play their role.

Therefore, political campaigns to isolate and eliminate specific energy sources are totally misguided. In fact, as a former energy reporter and as an advocate, I have never seen these divisive campaigns create any real political advantage for their supporters in Washington, D.C. or in the states.

That’s because the public isn’t seeking the demise of any energy source. Generally speaking, they favor policies that build things up, not tear things down. That’s true for oil and natural gas and it’s also true for renewable sources like solar.

For this reason, I’m opposed to the price floors and tariffs on imported solar products that are currently under consideration by the Trump administration. A decision on these trade barriers is expected in mid-January, and there is broad and bipartisan opposition to the move.

The Solar Energy Industries Association warns price floors and tariffs threaten more than 200,000 jobs nationally and thousands here in Colorado. Gov. John Hickenlooper has warned the impact of these new trade barriers could be “devastating” to solar investment in Colorado. U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet are some of the leading opponents on Capitol Hill, along with U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter and Diana DeGette.

Even free-market groups that oppose subsidies and mandates for renewable energy — including the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Taxpayers Union — are rallying behind the solar industry on this issue. “Protectionist policies, such as tariffs, remove the incentive for companies to innovate and build better business models that actually reduce the costs of solar energy,” the Heritage Foundation said.

I am proud to report that Vital for Colorado — where I work as a research fellow — also opposes the proposed trade barriers for solar energy. While we are best known for our work on oil and natural gas issues, our coalition of business leaders, public officials and citizens takes an “all of the above” approach to energy policy. The origins of our organization can be traced back to the renewable energy advocacy work of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce in the late 2000s, in fact.

“As an organization representing Colorado’s business community on energy issues, we support trade and oppose trade barriers as a matter of principle,” Vital for Colorado’s Chairman and CEO Peter Moore and South Metro Denver Chamber President and CEO Robert Golden said in a letter to the Trump administration.

“[T]he solar industry has warned that tens of thousands of jobs will be lost if these trade barriers are imposed, and the price of solar panels in the U.S. could double for consumers,” Moore and Golden said. “We take these warnings seriously and hope you will too.”

The risk of retaliatory action is also a major concern. Imposing trade restrictions on energy-related imports while the U.S. is seeking new markets in Asia and Europe for energy-related exports could place many more jobs outside the solar industry in jeopardy.

Therefore, while I am sure the intentions behind the solar trade barriers are good, hopefully the Trump administration will reject them. Tariffs do not help American workers or American consumers. They don’t build things up – they tear things down.

Instead, our leaders should stay focused on economic growth and fostering a pro-business climate at the national level and here in Colorado. A strong economy supports the growth of both traditional and renewable energy sources — and that is especially true in an economy that embraces the benefits of international trade.

Content originally published by Colorado Politics on December 13, 2017.
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