with Paulina Firozi


As President Trump's tweets over the weekend illustrated, the commander in chief has a lot on his mind.

Trump, however, does not appear to be paying a ton of attention — at least publicly — to one of his bread-and-butter issues: trade. But a key ruling last week in the energy sector could produce tariffs on foreign solar panel-makers, driving a big wedge in the industry as Trump needs to decide whether to apply his "America First" motto to renewables. (There would also be less -- or more expensive -- solar panels for the building of the border wall that Trump has said he would like to power with the energy source).

On Friday, the International Trade Commission voted in a 4-to-0 decision that cheap solar cell imports were unduly hurting U.S. manufacturers. This year, Suniva and SolarWorldAmericasTwo, solar panel makers respectively owned by German and Chinese firms but based in the United States, petitioned the commission for relief as imports of solar cells “have unexpectedly exploded and prices have collapsed.”

The ruling puts Trump in a political bind: it could potentially allow him to impose tariffs on China, a favorite nemesis on trade. But it would punish the U.S. solar industry in the process.

The two companies who petitioned the ITC are, naturally, happy to see their complaint move forward. “We brought this action because the U.S. solar manufacturing industry finds itself at the precipice of extinction at the hands of foreign market overcapacity,” Suniva said in a statement.

But much of the rest of the U.S. solar industry — which includes not just manufacturers but rooftop installers and solar farms that benefit from low-cost panels — is not pleased. Although solar power accounts for only about 1 percent of U.S. electric generation, cheap solar cell prices — coupled with a federal tax credit that will begin to be phased out in 2020 — are fueling a U.S. solar energy boom. The abundance of cheap foreign panel in the United States has encouraged homeowners and businesses to install rooftop units and power companies to invest in utility-scale solar farms.

The largest solar trade group in the nation, the Solar Energy Industries Association, has called the petition “deeply flawed.” After the commission's decision, Abigail Ross Hopper, the solar association's president, said, “This is a case about two companies who are bringing a petition about which almost the entire rest of the solar industry is in agreement in opposition.”

The commission has until Nov. 13 to draft recommendations, after which the White House has 60 days to accept or reject the proposal. If the commission and the president acquiesce to Suniva's request, the effect could be drastic

“Suniva’s petition asked for a 40-cent-a-watt tariff on solar cells and a 78-cent-a-watt floor on module prices,” The Washington Post's Chris Mooney and Steven Mufson write. “Moody’s said that would 'virtually double the cost of panels.' "

The renewable energy business has gained some unexpected allies in the solar tariff fight. The conservative Heritage Foundation argues that “neither subsidies nor tariffs will make the solar industry more competitive in the long term.” Two Republican governors — Brian Sandoval (Nev.) and Charlie Baker (Mass.) — worry about the “devastating blow” a tariff would have on their states' burgeoning solar industry.

There's even a national security argument being marshaled against a potential tariff. A group of retired military men and women who worked in building Defense Department energy infrastructure wrote a letter to the commission expressing their "deep concern" higher panel prices will have on "financial viability of planned and future solar investments on or near domestic military bases."

But for Trump, the commission's decision presents a rare opportunity for him to penalize two of his favorite punching bags — China and Mexico, which was also named in the ITC ruling and exports solar panels — without Congress getting in the way.

Even when many forces weigh against a decision (see: Paris climate agreement, The), Trump has proved again and again that Trump will be Trump. And it's that populist instinct that has most of the U.S. solar industry worried.


-- Meeting of the miners: A copy of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s schedule, obtained by The Post’s Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, reveals that Pruitt met with the heads of automobile, mining and fossil fuel companies and industry associations shortly before he made decisions that ultimately benefited those groups.

Here are a few of the notable meetings The Post identified on Pruitt’s schedule, which is the broadest public release of his work calendar to date:

  • Pruitt met in May with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the largest manufacturer of commercial truck gliders (or truck bodies without an engine or transmission).

  • Then about two months after the Fitzgerald meeting, Pruitt said he would revisit a rule to apply greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy-duty trucks to gliders and trailers.

  • Pruitt met with General Motors on April 26, the Auto Alliance (the industry’s lobbying arm) on April 27 and Ford Motor Co. on May 23.

  • Then in August, the EPA reopened rules on fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks, “with an eye to relax them.”

  • Pruitt met with the National Mining Association’s executive committee on April 24.

  • Then this month, Pruitt announced he would revisit a 2015 rule to tighten federal rules for how companies contain coal ash.

  • Pruitt met on May 1 with the Pebble Limited Partnership, a Canadian firm that was blocked by the agency in 2014 from building a massive gold, copper and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed.

  • Then a week and a half later, the two sides came to a legal agreement to allow the firm to apply for federal permits.

Notice a pattern? CNN's Drew Griffin, Scott Bronstein and John D. Sutter have a bit more on the Pebble decision, based on interviews and government emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

"On February 15," CNN reports, "two days before Pruitt's swearing in, a lobbyist for the Pebble Partnership contacted a member of Trump's EPA transition team, according to the emails." That kicked off a back-and-forth between Pebble and the EPA transition team, which Dennis McLerran, former regional administrator overseeing Alaska, called "stunning" and "unlike anything I've ever seen" given the fact that Pebble was suing the EPA at the time. Gina McCarthy, EPA head before Pruitt, called the way the decision was made "disturbing" and "extraordinary."

Read CNN's report on the Pebble decision here and read more analysis of Pruitt’s April to mid-September agenda from The Post here.

-- Hurricane recovery politics: The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a bill on Friday afternoon that would provide temporary tax breaks for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The legislation, from Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) would “ease requirements for deducting individual property losses and allow people to draw on their retirement funds without penalty. The legislation also seeks to encourage people around the U.S. to donate to hurricane relief efforts by temporarily suspending limits on deductions for charitable contributions,” the Associated Press reported.

Brady is set to formally introduce the bill on Monday.

-- Cries for help from Puerto Rico: President Trump's series of tweets over the weekend were made all the more remarkable by the fact that none of them addressed the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, which may prove to be the most devastating of the trio of hurricanes over the past month. 

Here's the latest:

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz recounts the many struggles Puerto Rico's capital city is facing as it tries to regain its footing after Hurricane Maria. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

-- ”It’s a total disaster:” That’s how mayor of the southern Puerto Rican city of Juana Diaz described the destruction days after Maria made landfall. It will take months for the entire island to regain power, weeks before even the hospitals have electricity.

The Post’s Samantha Schmidt and Daniel Cassady lay out the state of things on the U.S. territory:

Hurricane Maria pounded the entire island of Puerto Rico on Wednesday, but the scope of the damage had been speculative and unclear since, in large part because towns across the U.S. territory have been completely off the grid. Though images from the air showed incredible destruction, mayors were unable to reach central government for leadership and help because communication was impossible. No telephones, cellphones, or Internet. No power. No passage through roads that had been washed away or blocked with trees and power lines.

But on Saturday, for the first time in days, mayors and representatives from more than 50 municipalities across Puerto Rico met with government officials at the emergency operations command center here in the island’s capital city. Many of the mayors learned about the meeting through media reports over satellite radio the night before. One mayor said his staff was informed after a man ran to his offices with a note telling him to make his way to San Juan.

Residents of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, gather their strength as they start to clean up and rebuild on Sept. 24. (Reuters)

-- “Stay away or be swept away:” Officials in Puerto Rico ordered 70,000 residents in northwestern Puerto Rico to evacuate on Friday over concerns about the imminent failure of a dam that was damaged by Maria. Still reeling from the effects of Irma and the devastation of Maria, now tens of thousands of people are in the potential path of water flow from Guajataca Dam, which suffered a “fissure,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said, report The Post’s Samantha Schmidt, Katie Zezima, Sandhya Somashekhar and Daniel Cassady.

The National Weather Service in San Juan issued a flash flood warning for residents on Sunday in the area of the Guajataca River below the dam, Reuters reported. The dam is about 120 feet tall and provides the area with hydropower, drinking water and irrigation supplies, according to the report.

“Stay away or be swept away,” NWS warned.

-- "There will be no food in Puerto Rico:" In one swoop, Maria wiped out 80 percent of crop value in Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. territory's agriculture secretary. The New York Times's Frances Robles and Luis Ferré-Sadurní draw a very grim picture of what's happened to the island's farms.

Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.

Or as one Puerto Rican farmer told the reporters, “There will be no food in Puerto Rico. There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer."

-- "We still need some more help:" Speaking to Post reporter Ed O'Keefe through a shaky cellphone connection, Puerto Rico Gov. Rosselló pleaded with Washington to help his island. “We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said from San Juan. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”

The issue, per Ed: "The Federal Emergency Management Agency isn't expected to ask lawmakers for a new round of federal disaster relief funding until mid-October, meaning that the agency thinks it has enough money at its disposal to cover major disaster recovery operations nationwide. Absent a formal request from the Trump administration, lawmakers cannot begin work on a federal relief bill for the latest round of damage caused by record-setting hurricanes, the aides said."

Rosselló is not alone in worrying that disaster fatigue is hitting at just the wrong moment for Puerto Rico. As Daniel Gross, executive editor of the magazine Strategy + Business put it:

That waning interest in hurricanes was on display (or rather, not on display) on television over the weekend. "This Week" on ABC, "Face the Nation" on CBS and "Fox News Sunday" all "failed to mention the extensive destruction and the millions of American citizens without power or shelter," wrote Media Matters for America, a liberal media watchdog group. "CNN and NBC’s Sunday political talk shows both mentioned the story but spent minimal time covering the devastation."

From meteorologist Eric Holthaus:

-- “We don’t have a house anymore: "The Post's Samantha Schmidt and Joel Achenbach report from Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital still isolated from much of the rest of the island, to present a powerful profile of a resident maned Meryanne Aldea, who is taking care of her bedridden mother and 5-year-old daughter after having had her home destroyed by Maria.

-- Federal resources are being strained by Maria: The situation is so bad that as of Friday, the EPA halted hurricane response operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Washington Examiner reports. Right now, the situation is too hazardous for agents to work in either territory. For now, the agency will work from Miami.

The Defense Department is worried how effective its response can be too. According to The Hill, the Pentagon is taking steps to prevent burnout among soldiers responding to hurricane after hurricane, particularly within the Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for building and maintaining public flood protection infrastructure.

“We make sure that they do have an opportunity to go home, to refit, to rest, before they get on the airplane to go to the next storm,” Brig. Gen. Diana Holland, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers division overseeing the southeastern United States, said according to The Hill.

-- And it’s still possible for Maria to hit the East Coast. “[I]t is likely that some direct impacts will occur along portions of the coast by midweek,” the National Hurricane Center reported in a Sunday advisory. The News & Observer reported that Maria could “track 100 to 150 miles offshore of the North Carolina coast Tuesday and Wednesday.”

Overnight, Maria continued to weaken and was listed as a category 1 storm by the hurricane center as of this morning.

“Swells generated by Maria are increasing along portions of the southeastern United States coast and Bermuda and will be increasing along the Mid-Atlantic coast today,” the hurricane center reported in an overnight advisory. “These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.”

A tropical storm warning has been issued for the North Carolina coast from Cape Lookout to Duck, including the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds.  A tropical storm watch is in effect from North of Duck to the North Carolina border with Virginia, and north of Surf City to south of Cape Lookout. A storm surge is issued from Cape Lookout to Duck. n effect from cape City to the North Carolina border with Virginia.


--”Warm Arctic, Cold Continents:” The Post’s Chris Mooney describes recently discovered evidence for what he calls “one of the most bizarre ideas about climate change”.

This is the notion that as the Arctic warms up faster than the middle latitudes, it may sometimes cause a displacement of the region’s still quite frigid air to places that aren’t so used to it. In other words, even as the planet warms, masses of cold air could also become more mobile and deliver quite a shock at times when outbreaks occur in more southerly latitudes ...

Now, a new study in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society makes the case that in January and February — later in the winter than those events — another, perhaps related change is occurring. This one involves the notorious “stratospheric polar vortex,” a loop of extremely cold and fast-flowing air, high in the atmosphere, that tightly encircles the Arctic in the freezing dark of polar winter. This vortex can sometimes develop outward bulges, allowing for a more southerly invasion of air.

The study, led by Marlene Kretschmer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, sought to find patterns in the stratospheric polar vortex over the past 37 years, categorizing its behavior into seven states, ranging from a tight loop around the Arctic to “a weak distorted vortex.” And it determined that the stronger and more defined vortex has been occurring less frequently, while distorted states have been growing more common — a change linked to colder temperatures over Eurasia.



  • National Clean Energy Week begins.

Coming Up

  • The National Clean Energy Week Symposium is on Tuesday.

  • The Institute for Policy Integrity holds an event on “Energy, Climate and a Different Federalism” on Tuesday.

  • The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy holds a hearing on “Technology’s Role in Empowering Consumers” on Tuesday.

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on Tuesday to consider Bruce J. Walker to be assistant secretary of Energy for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability and Steven E. Winberg to be assistant secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy.

  • The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment holds an event on Maryland’s Offshore Wind and Energy Efficiency Policies on Tuesday.

  • The Environmental Law Institute hosts an event on Energy Transition and the Future of Hydrokinetic Energy in the United States on Tuesday.

  • The American Gas Association’s Natural Gas Roundtable holds an event on Tuesday featuring David Carroll, president of the International Gas Union.

  • The Wilson Center’s North America Energy Forum is on Wednesday.

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds an oversight hearing on “Encouraging the Next Generation to Visit National Parks” on Wednesday.

  • The Congressional Advanced Energy Storage Caucus holds a briefing with Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) on the U.S. energy market and electric infrastructure resilience on Wednesday

  • The Environmental Markets Association annual meeting begins on Wednesday.


As a Puerto Rican dam was on verge of collapse, thousands urged to evacuate:

A crack in a dam in northwestern Puerto Rico has become a significant breach Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said on Sept. 23, urging residents downstream to leave. (Giovanni Brignoni/Facebook)

Puerto Ricans get creative to communicate after Hurricane Maria:

People in Puerto Rico are using a local radio stations and writing on social media to communicate family following Hurricane Maria. (The Washington Post)

Melania Trump hosts her first event in the White House garden:

First lady Melania Trump planted and harvested produce with D.C.-area children in the White House Kitchen Garden on Sept. 22. (The White House)