On Monday, White House staffers that were discussing the latest emergency Executive Order to waive tariffs on solar products imported from Southeast Asia often used the phrase “environmental justice” to describe one of the themes behind the move. The White House Fact Sheet of June 6 highlighted the same phrase multiple times.
If environmental justice means countries that take the environment into consideration in regard to industrial waste, pollution, and allows for people to have a say in what gets built and where, then the United States is top-notch. Southeast Asia, not so much.
As the White House looks to import more solar from Southeast Asia, environmental justice will definitely be taking a back seat. The White House’s rhetoric is shallow and meaningless. In fact, over the two-year waiver period, we may see less solar production in the U.S. – where industrial processes are cleaner – and more from Southeast Asia – where they are dirtier.
Although it’s a bit old, in 2015 the World Resources Institute put together an index called the Environmental Democracy Index. It is the closest thing we have to a ranking of countries based on what the White House may refer to as environmental justice.
The U.S. was No. 1 in the large, advanced economies. It was No. 3 overall, trailing Latvia and Lithuania.
The overall score, which measured all of the different pillars of what made an environmentally friendly industrial policy and manufacturing base should strive for, was 2.16 out of a scale of around 0 to 3 for the United States.
Among the Southeast Asian solar exporters, Thailand was the best and ranked 38 out of 70 nations for an overall score of 1.38. It was all downhill from there. Vietnam’s overall score was 1.16 with a rank of 48; Cambodia was 0.76 with a rank near the bottom at 62 and Malaysia was only outdone by Haiti with an overall score of 0.58 and a rank of 69 out of 70.
Environment justice-approved solar panels will not be getting shipped to the United States under the White House waiver.
These bottom-of-the-barrel environmental policy nations will be flooding the market with solar cells and solar panels, duty-free, until 2024.
And while their scores may have improved (there is no new Environmental Democracy Index), it is highly unlikely that they have surpassed the U.S.
Environmental and labor standards only seem to matter to the U.S., whose manufacturers are left to compete with countries that play by a separate set of rules.
The waiver was issued out of concern about electric power rationing this summer. Solar is less than 20% of the U.S. energy grid. The White House decision calls into a question a Commerce Department investigation into Chinese multinationals dumping below market value solar products into the U.S. from its offshore factories in those four Asian nations. Commerce said they will continue this investigation. A preliminary decision is expected in August.