They're not quoting free market economists Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman yet, but some environmentalist voices are asking whether protectionist trade policies aren't undermining renewable energy. And the broader Green movement may be listening.
What has them concerned is that the escalating trade war over the China's cheap solar panels. Domestic manufacturers have pushed hard for tariffs on them, and the White House has agreed.
That threatens to put the brakes on solar panel installation in the United States, which has taken off in the last few years, thanks in large part to those same cheap imports.
"Tariffs on Chinese solar are bad for us all," warned Sierra Club blogger Garvin Jabusch in a May posting. The policy, he said, is making solar panels "much less affordable for U.S. consumers."
In a post last month on the environmental news website Grist.org, Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, wrote: "If China is subsidizing solar panels, let's thank them and ask them to do more."
Last week, Bill Waren, trade policy analyst for Friends of the Earth, concluded a lengthy blog post with this warning: "Trade complaints will not solve our problems; in fact, in the long run, they may undercut clean energy and low carbon policies globally."
It's a thorny issue for the environmentalist movement. Generally they've favored any federal action that boosts the domestic renewables industry. They've also tried to build ties with Big Labor, forming the BlueGreen Alliance. And they've tended to scorn anything that smacks of free market economics.
Sierra Club former chairman Carl Pope expressed the more traditional view in a blog post from last September: "If the U.S. wants to be part of [the] future, then we need to make solar panels here in the USA, and we need to create the markets for panels with public policies."
But Jabusch, co-founder of the investment firm Green Alpha Advisors, took the opposite tack in his Sierra Club blog after the duties were announced. "Solar in this country just got a lot more expensive and 100,000 domestic solar industry jobs (mostly installing and servicing) created over the last five years are now at risk," he wrote. "Also oil, coal, and gas suddenly can remain price competitive with solar in the U.S, for far longer than market forces would otherwise dictate."
Jabusch cautions that although he blogs for them, he is not an official Sierra Club spokesman. But he is firm that his fellow enviros need to take a hard look at the issue. The feedback from his post, he adds, was "mostly positive."
Such anecdotes may explain why most environmental groups have been conspicuously silent as U.S. solar manufacturers' claim that the trade battle between the U.S. and China is key to supporting the domestic solar industry.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Union of Concerned Scientists and even -- despite Pope's comments -- the Sierra Club do not appear to have taken an official position. They downplay the significance of that though.
"We don't take a position on national trade disputes," said Nathanael Greene, NRDC's director of renewable energy policy.
Even the BlueGreen Alliance has not taken a position, despite the fact that one of its key members, the United Steel Workers, is active in trade cases against China.
The bottom line is that the Greens are not making the protection of U.S. solar manufacturing a priority, and that is itself telling. At the very least, it's taking a back seat.
"I've heard this off-the-record from some of the guys at the big NGOs," Jabusch told me. "That with the Obama administration, they like to keep their powder dry more to take on the Keystone XL pipeline than panel tariffs."
Sean Higgins (email@example.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @seanghiggins.