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Sen. Jeff Merkley. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Jeff Merkley says domestic solar manufacturers should be helped by incentives instead of tariffs to compete with cheap imports, putting the Oregon Democrat on the side of most of the solar industry and against an Oregon-based manufacturer seeking tariffs from President Trump.

Why it matters: Merkley personifies the challenge facing clean-energy advocates in the pending solar trade battle: He wants to support renewable energy whenever possible, but one of his constituents is telling him cheap imports is hurting his home-state solar manufacturer. Merkley's comments to Axios, made earlier this month on the sidelines of a climate conference in Bonn, Germany, are the first the senator has made on the trade case.

"I would like to see us to take an approach that would assist the American companies so they could lower their prices and compete with industry at lower prices," Merkley said in the interview. He said subsidies to U.S. companies would be a "real win-win."

Two foreign-owned but U.S.-based solar manufacturers — Georgia-based Suniva and Oregon-based SolarWorld — are asking the Trump administration to impose tariffs on cheap solar imports. Most experts say tariffs would hurt deployment of American solar energy because the U.S. industry depends heavily on cheap panels from China and other Asian countries, but there's less consensus about how big the impact could be, while other experts say a remedy could at least temporarily help domestic panel makers.

For the record: A SolarWorld representative said the company appreciated Merkley's advocacy but added: "We believe that an appropriate remedy by the President to save and rebuild U.S. solar manufacturing must include tariffs and quotas as well as funding or incentives."

What's next: The United States Trade Representative holds a hearing on the trade case Dec. 6, and the White House has a Jan. 12 deadline to make a final decision. A Trump administration official has said the president is likely to issue tariffs on solar imports, given his protectionist bent.

Merkley didn't go into detail about what kind of incentives he could support, but according to the senator's office, he wouldn't rule out a remedy that could impose quotas on the amount of imports allowed or auction of import licenses, the latter which works kind of like a tariff in that it imposes an extra cost on imported solar panels because companies would have to buy import licenses.

Flashback: Merkley supported a similar, though much narrower, trade case a few years ago, where SolarWorld asked for tariffs against Chinese imports only. This latest case is asking for tariffs against all imports of the most popular kind of solar panel, under the argument Chinese companies have outsourced their manufacturing to other Southeast Asian countries to get around earlier trade barriers.

Between the lines: Merkley is taking a more cautious approach this time around, largely because it's a broader trade request. Oregon's senior senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, has been more outspokenly critical of what cheap imports are doing to domestic solar manufacturers.

Go deeper: Check out my recent Harder Line column on this topic: America's Chinese solar dilemma.

Go deeper

U.S. women's soccer team beats Netherlands, moves on to Olympic semifinals

Members of the U.S. women's soccer team celebrate after beating the Netherlands. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The U.S. women's soccer team beat the Netherlands in a penalty kick shootout on Friday, propelling them to the semifinals of the Olympic Games.

Why it matters: The win brings the U.S. team one step closer to its quest for a historic back-to-back double — winning the Olympics after emerging victorious at the Women's World Cup. The U.S. will play Canada in the semifinals next week.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - World

SEC clamps down on Chinese IPOs

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese companies will be unable to go public in the U.S. unless they make new risk disclosures, according to a statement released Friday morning from SEC chair Gary Gensler.

Why it matters: Chinese companies, and tech startups in particular, are already under growing pressure from their own government. Now they're also getting squeezed by U.S. officials.

2 hours ago - Sports

U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy causes stir with doping comments

Bronze medallist Britain's Luke Greenbank, gold medallist Russia's Evgeny Rylov and silver medallist USA's Ryan Murphy pose with their medals after the final of the men's 200m backstroke. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand /AFP via Getty Images

U.S. swimmer Ryan Murphy raised questions about the presence of doping in swimming following a second-place finish in the men's 200-meter backstroke on Thursday.

Driving the news: Murphy, who won gold in the 200-meter backstroke race in Rio, said following his race: "At the end of the day, I do believe there’s doping in swimming. That is what it is."