President Donald J. Trump may have tipped his hand on which way he is leaning on the solar tariff case with a virtually unnoticed appointment overnight.
Late last night, Trump appointed three men to his Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, including Daniel DiMicco, former CEO of Nucor Corporation – but it isn’t his work with the North Carolina-based steelmaker that should worry the solar industry. Instead, it’s his work with the Coalition for a Prosperous America (CPA) that should give the industry pause.
In September, CPA filed a letter with U.S. International Trade Commission Secretary Lisa Barton urging her to support of the Section 201 petitions filed by Suniva and supported by SolarWorld.
“The CPA is deeply troubled by the recent surge of imports that have all but devastated the U.S. solar cell and module manufacturing industry,” the group wrote in the letter. “The CPA’s members know all too well the severe impact that destructive import surges can have on domestic manufacturers, their workers and economic growth.”
“America cannot afford to lose another manufacturing industry to imports, particularly one that combines high-tech and renewable energy like the solar industry,” the letter continued.
The letter was signed by Michael Stumo, CEO of CPA, but DiMicco’s name appears at the top of letterhead as chairman of the organization. It would be unlikely that DiMicco’s name would appear on a letter he had not at least seen if not personally approved.
DiMicco’s committee will be working closely with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as he makes his determination about what advice he will give Trump as the president weighs whether to impose sanctions on foreign solar module manufacturers.
Between DiMicco’s appointment and the news that Suniva officials were in contact with Trump Administration trade officials prior to actually filing the complaint – as well as the president’s repeated proclamations in favor of imposing tariffs on someone – complicates the question about whether the solar industry’s concerns about the effects of an affirmative decision would have on it will get an impartial hearing.
It is worth noting that steel was the last industry to file a successful Section 201 trade complaint.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) congratulated Dimicco on his appointment and expressed their excitement over tomorrow’s meeting with Lighthizer.
“We congratulate Mr. DiMicco on this important appointment,” said Dan Whitten, SEIA’s vice president of communications. “We look forward to presenting the facts at tomorrow’s USTR hearing, and we remain keenly focused on putting America First and saving American solar jobs and the tens of billions of dollars in U.S investment that would be lost if tariffs are put into place.”
Lighthizer has a meeting scheduled tomorrow with all sides in the solar trade dispute as part of a final fact-finding mission before he offers Trump his suggestions on what he should do.
Trump is expected to announce his final decision by January 26.
Update: This article was updated at 4:33 pm EST on 12/5/17 to include a response from SEIA’s Vice President of Communications Dan Whitten.