This week the Trump administration approved a set of tariffs on imported solar panels, a policy that could impact hundreds of jobs at Solar World here in Hillsboro. We’re living in an age of sharp partisan divide, but issues like this show the world is so much more complicated than red versus blue.

First of all: this is a policy change that Oregon Senator Ron Wyden agreed with Present Donald Trump about, which is certainly rare. If anything Wyden thought the policy didn’t go far enough, calling it a partial victory:

I’ll be closely studying this decision to see if it will be sufficient to level the playing field for American solar manufacturers against the flood of foreign-made solar panels. However, I am concerned that the administration did not follow the bipartisan International Trade Commission’s recommendations, and instead offered weaker relief.

To review: a Republican President imposes a tariff designed to save manufacturing jobs, and a Senator from a state with a number of jobs in that industry thinks it doesn’t go far enough. All fairly normal so far.

But the left is not united on this. Abigail Ross Hopper, President of the (SEIA) President Abigail, called the policy a job killer that will derail solar installations:

We are not happy with this decision. It’s just basic economics — if you raise the price of a product it’s going to decrease demand for that product.

From a local perspective this doesn’t make any sense: the tariffs might be the only thing that keep Solar World open here in Hillsboro. Nationally, however, most people working in the solar industry are installing the panels, not making them, and higher prices will lead to less demand for solar installation. That’s what Hopper is talking about.

A Quartz piece by Akshat Rathi outlines it nicely.

Trump’s move helps US solar-panel manufacturers, such as FirstSolar, Tesla, Suniva, and SolarWorld. But manufacturing only makes up about 14% of jobs in the US solar industry, and it is increasingly becoming more automated.

The tariff might keep a few jobs around in the short term, and the value of that cannot be understated for employees here in Hillsboro. There are real people here who will benefit from that work. But there are also real people in other states who might lose solar installation jobs, and reduced solar installations will also have climate change implications.

Which is just to say that politics is about trade offs, and those trade offs rarely fit into the left/right binary the media obsesses over so much. Local stories like this one can help make that clear, which is why it’s a good idea to watch them closely.

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