Vice President Biden has never been one for understatement. Speaking to reporters in April, he declared that America's "energy policy is the best it's ever been."
Since taking office, Biden has been head cheerleader for Team Obama's energy policy, particularly its efforts to promote solar power. In 2010, he and Energy Secretary Steven Chu were hawking a report on the administration's efforts to make solar power cheaper.
Those were the days. Now the administration's solar policy seems to be centered on making solar more expensive. In March, the Commerce Department announced it would impose tariffs on imported Chinese solar panels. Those tariffs will be passed on to solar panel buyers in the form of higher prices.
Why this assault on Americans who buy solar panels made in China? Because Chinese solar panel makers receive government subsidies. The tariff is meant to tip the playing field back toward American producers.
There's nothing admirable about government subsidies for energy. We should break that habit ourselves. But in this case, Americans benefit without paying. If another country wants to subsidize the production of solar panels and sell them at a loss to consumers in the United States, why not let them do so? We Americans should be happy to let another government foot part of our bill for cleaner energy. Think of it as a gift from China to the American solar consumer.
The Obama administration, though, doesn't think of it that way. Instead, the administration wants to energize the business of its cronies, some of whom manufacture solar panels. So we have here protectionism mixed with cronyism. The benefits flow to Obama's friends at the expense not only of politically convenient villains, such as the oil and gas industry, but also -- and more importantly -- of American consumers.
Even renewable-crazed Europeans are realizing the folly of subsidizing solar. Recently both Spain and Germany have sharply reduced solar subsidies.
Though the Obama administration hates to admit it, oil and natural gas are here to stay. According to the government's own data, 77 percent of the nation's energy demands will be met by fossil fuels in 2035. Oil and natural gas are among the only energy sources that are economically viable without government handouts.
This isn't the first time the administration has played favorites with politically connected energy firms. The biggest investor in Solyndra -- whose bankruptcy cost taxpayers half a billion dollars -- was also a major Obama campaign donor, and his company's loan guarantee was approved despite the government's knowledge that the project was "not ready for prime time." According to Peter Schweizer of the Hoover Institution, 80 percent of the Energy Department's taxpayer-backed sweetheart loans were "run by or primarily owned by Obama financial backers." The Commerce Department's decision to slap tariffs on Chinese solar panel imports just represents more of the same cronyism at work.
Appearing at an Ohio solar plant in 2009, Biden declared that the Obama administration was ready to help America's solar energy manufacturers prepare to "compete with anybody in the world." These new tariffs indicate that the administration recognizes its favored manufacturers can't be competitive on their own.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics at George Mason University. He blogs at CafeHayek.com.