Biden trade pick faces tough choices on U.S. solar

Source: By David Iaconangelo and Lesley Clark, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden has picked Katherine Tai, a top trade lawyer on the House Ways and Means Committee, to serve as U.S. trade representative — a position that is likely to be key for the new administration’s clean energy goals.

A former lawyer for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Tai oversaw enforcement actions against China. Fluent in Mandarin, she will step into the role at a time of rising tensions between the U.S. and China, which also controls much of the world’s supply of solar panels and lithium-ion batteries.

As a chief trade counsel for the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee, she negotiated with the Trump administration on its reworked trade pact between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

If confirmed, she would run an executive agency with the power to enact or repeal tariffs on imports of solar panels, wind turbine parts and other key clean energy technologies.

Under the Trump administration, the USTR has slapped several new tariffs on foreign-made versions of those products, and defended the tariffs after solar companies and trade groups challenged them in court.

Some energy analysts have predicted that Biden, who wants to decarbonize the nation’s electricity by 2035, will try to peel back the Trump administration’s tariffs in order to bring down costs for renewable projects.

But the president-elect has also signaled that he would not pursue a radical shift — at least over the short term. Earlier this month, he told The New York Times that he would not “make any immediate moves” on tariffs. “I’m not going to prejudice my options,” he said then, according to the paper.

Tai’s nomination comes in the days after environmentalists pressed the president-elect not to select another presumed candidate for trade representative, Fred Hochberg, a former chairman of the U.S. Export-Import Bank. Three groups — Friends of the Earth U.S., Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity — said Hochberg had left a “fossil-fueled legacy” during his time as chairman (Energywire, Dec. 9).

One member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), applauded news of Tai’s nomination last night. “She is smart, deeply knowledgeable, and committed to getting trade policy right for our workers, businesses, and the environment,” Beyer said in a statement. The lawmaker added that she was widely respected and well-liked, “but will also be a tough and principled negotiator.”

The Associated Press contributed.