December 4, 2019 / 10:10 PM / 11 days ago

U.S. solar industry urges Twitter campaign to 'punch back' at White House

Dec 4 (Reuters) - The top U.S. solar industry trade group on Wednesday urged members to use social media to “punch back” in an escalating dispute over whether the Trump administration’s tariffs on imported panels are killing or creating American jobs.

The call to action by the Solar Energy Industry Association came a day after it released a study claiming the levies would cost some 62,000 jobs and $19 billion in clean energy investments. The study is part of a strategy to persuade President Donald Trump to reduce or end the four-year tariff regime implemented early last year.

The study prompted a withering rebuttal from Trump's trade adviser Peter Navarro, who called the estimate here "fake news" and the association "a loose confederation of Chinese solar companies seeking to destroy American solar manufacturing jobs."

In an email to the trade group’s public relations committee on Wednesday, Dan Whitten, its vice president of public affairs, asked that members post photos of U.S. solar workers online with the phrase: “Mr. Peter Navarro, I am an American solar worker. @StopSolarTariffs @WhiteHouse & @USTradeRep”.

“We need your help to punch back,” the email, seen by Reuters, said. “We need to engage our workers in a Twitter campaign to hit back.”

Trump’s tariff program on imported panels was his opening salvo in a trade war aimed at helping U.S. manufacturers rebound from years of decline due to foreign competition. Solar installers opposed the tariffs because they rely on cheap imported panels to compete with fossil fuels.

The levy started at 30% and was designed to drop by five percentage points each year.

The report, whose gloomy forecasts were based on that rate regime, came out two days before a scheduled mid-term review of the tariff program by the International Trade Commission that could influence whether Trump maintains, changes or cancels it.

Most panels installed in the United States are made in Asia. Despite the tariffs, global panel prices have continued to fall due to an oversupply in top producer China, which cut incentives for installations there and unleashed a flood of solar products into the market. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Richard Chang)

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