US confirms tariffs on China's solar industry

Commerce said China has sold solar cells in the U.S. anywhere from 18 to 250 percent below fair value. The investigation also determined China has unfairly and directly subsidized between 15 and 16 percent of its solar cell exporters’ costs.

For most of the Chinese firms that sell solar cells or panels in the U.S., the tariffs will range between 34 and 47 percent.

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President Obama will likely use the decision to back up assertions that he has been tough on China.

GOP White House challenger Mitt Romney argues Obama has not done enough to combat Chinese trade practices.

But Obama has upped pressure on China in recent weeks, first by imposing tariffs on tires imported from China and then by blocking a Chinese firm from buying four U.S. wind farm companies.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said finalizing the tariffs was another example of Obama's resolve.

"Today's decision by the President to impose tough tariffs on Chinese solar imports is just the latest step by the Obama Administration to get tough on foreign companies who don't play by the rules," Hoyer said in a statement. "I applaud his move, which will help American manufacturers compete here at home and overseas."

The solar issue is a particular sore spot for the administration. The White House has had to deflect constant attacks from the GOP regarding a $535 — million federal loan guarantee the Energy Department gave to now-bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra.

Republicans say the episode is an example of what they say are Obama’s misguided energy policies. 

They say stimulus programs like the one that benefited Solyndra shows the government has no place picking winners and losers in the energy market.

The administration, however, has long contended state-subsidized Chinese solar firms were to blame for Solyndra’s demise. Obama said the flood of Chinese products caused prices to plummet, precipitating Solyndra’s demise.

Though a possible political victory for the Obama administration, a top solar industry group urged more “diplomacy” to restore the industry’s stability.

“Prior to these trade cases, the U.S. and Chinese solar industries enjoyed a strong, productive working relationship. For both sides to succeed going forward, we must return to our collaborative roots at both the industry and government levels,” Solar Energy Industries Association CEO Rhone Resch said in a statement.

The tariffs have divided the solar industry.

Installers are concerned the tariffs could stymie homeowners and businesses from adopting solar. The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy said it was, "gratified that the scope of today’s decision is limited only to solar cells made in China and that the Department did not significantly increase the tariff from its preliminary decision in May."

Most manufacturers, however, want the tariffs to strengthen U.S. firms' competitiveness against Chinese rivals. The 226-member Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing said the tariffs, "will be one step to restoring fair competition to the U.S. marketplace."

Updated at 9:24 p.m.