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Senate passes resolution overturning Biden solar tariff pause

Worker at Vietnam solar factory inspects panels

A worker inspects solar panels at a manufacturing facility in Vung Tau, Vietnam. Photo: Yen Duong/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nine Senate Democrats joined Republicans this evening to pass a measure overturning President Biden’s solar tariff pause, sending it to the White House for a likely veto.

Why it matters: The 56-41 vote highlighted unusual political faults over China’s role in the global energy transition that could bubble up on the 2024 campaign trail.

  • The House passed the measure late last week, but neither chamber secured the supermajority needed to override a veto.

Driving the news: The Congressional Review Act resolution would toss out a tariff waiver for solar panels imported from four Southeast Asian countries.

  • Democratic "yes" votes: Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters, Tammy Baldwin, John Fetterman and Finance Chair Ron Wyden.
  • GOP Sen. Rand Paul joined most other Democrats in voting "no."
  • The vote caps a weeks-long saga that sent anxiety through the major renewable energy trade organizations.
  • If the resolution were enacted, solar companies would face retroactive fees.

Flashback: Biden issued the waiver in 2022, pausing tariffs on solar panels from Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand for two years.

  • The move preempted a pending Commerce Department investigation into whether solar manufacturers were circumventing tariffs on Chinese panels.
  • In a preliminary finding in December, the agency said some companies had been skirting U.S. levies by sending panels through those countries for processing.
  • A final determination from Commerce is expected as soon as this month.

Of note: Swing-state Democrats up in 2024 split different ways.

  • Jacky Rosen has for weeks led opposition to the resolution among Senate Democrats, lobbying colleagues in caucus meetings and circulating materials urging a “no” vote.
  • "I see it as a vote that will either keep American jobs or kill American jobs," Rosen told Axios, arguing that rescinding the waiver would cripple solar installers.
  • Meanwhile, Brown, Casey and Manchin — who could face competitive races — were prominent waiver opponents.

The intrigue: China controls the vast majority of the solar supply chain, and waiver proponents argue the pause gives the industry a grace period to onshore panel manufacturing, as the IRA tax credits come into the fold.

  • Rick Scott, the resolution’s GOP lead sponsor, framed it as a referendum on China.
  • The Democrats who voted for it said they want to enforce trade law aimed at countering unfair trade practices by China — and shield U.S. manufacturers from the cheap imports that currently dominate the market.
  • Wyden, for instance, said it was a vote “to protect the American manufacturers,” pointing back to the large suite of incentives he authored in the climate law.
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