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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

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Texas governor: "All hostages are out alive and safe"

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images

All four hostages have been safely released after a day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

The latest: "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.

The new normal: Google searches reveal America's COVID shopping habits

Data: The New Normal; Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

As the pandemic enters its third year, some of America's COVID-era shopping habits — including strong demand for tequila and sweatpants — are here to stay.

Driving the news: Axios worked with Google Trends and the Schema Design firm to create The New Normal, which analyzes the products Americans have Googled since 2020. Items with a lasting increase in search interest help fill in the details of what our "new normal" looks like.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: You can start ordering free COVID tests Wednesday — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy — Biden deploying military medical staff to help overwhelmed hospitals.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— Nurses across the U.S. strike against COVID working conditions— CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: Biden admin threatens to take back Arizona's COVID aid over anti-mask rules — Students across U.S. walkout of classes to demand safer COVID protocols — West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker