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Solar panels that are part of the Wright-Hennepin Cooperative Electric Association's community gardens. Photo: Jim Mone / AP

The U.S. International Trade Commission yesterday made varying recommendations for import restrictions or penalties in imported solar panel equipment. The big question today is whether the ITC's proposals will influence President Trump.

Be smart: Council on Foreign Relations energy expert Varun Sivaram, who has been warning that steep tariffs are the biggest domestic policy threat to solar's rapid U.S. growth, says the four-year recommendations are "not as bad as they could have been."

  • If he had to guess, Sivaram thinks the White House will go with what he calls the "moderate" and median recommendation offered jointly by two of the four ITC commissioners (David Johanson and Irving Williamson). Their recommendations include a 30% tariff on crystalline solar PV cells and modules that declines by 5% annually.

Why? Sivaram believes this proposal could be attractive to Trump because:

  • It would allow the administration to score a win by showing it's tough on trade
  • It's supported by two of the four sitting commissioners
  • "It also enables the administration to signal to the broad coalition of interests that have advocated against trade protection (including many conservative groups) that it chose a reasonable, middle-ground approach that wasn't as extreme as the Suniva/SolarWorld remedies."

Reminder: The ITC recommendations:

  • Are weaker than what Suniva, the bankrupt panel manufacturer, requested in the contentious tariff fight. Soon after yesterday's ITC action, the company urged Trump to take "courageous steps necessary to save American manufacturing" by going with stronger penalties.
  • Are a little bit of good news for the wider solar industry, at least according to their biggest trade group SEIA, though the organization still says that they would be "intensely harmful."
  • The ITC will deliver a proposal to the White House later this month, but here's the caveat running through every story on this: President Trump isn't bound by the ITC's views and can do whatever he wants. So...

Impact: Sivaram says the Johanson-Williamson proposal would not be "catastrophic" for the U.S. solar industry, but would nonetheless "set it back."

  • The effect on installed capacity levels after 2020 would be pretty small. However, "jobs will certainly be lost" and would not be offset by increased panel manufacturing jobs.

Go deeper: Utility Dive looks in-depth at the various trade restrictions floated by the ITC commissioners yesterday.

Where it all ends: "Longer term, I think this tees up a challenge at the World Trade Organization. The U.S. has never successfully litigated a safeguard case at the WTO," Clark Packard of the R Street Institute, a free-market group that opposes tariffs, told Axios.

Go deeper

Scoop: FDA chief called to West Wing

Stephen Hahn. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has summoned FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn to the West Wing for a 9:30am meeting Tuesday to explain why he hasn't moved faster to approve the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine, two senior administration officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting is shaping up to be tense, with Hahn using what the White House will likely view as kamikaze language in a preemptive statement to Axios: "Let me be clear — our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision."

Scoop: Schumer's regrets

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images   

Chuck Schumer told party donors during recent calls that the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the fact that Cal Cunningham "couldn't keep his zipper up" crushed Democrats' chances of regaining the Senate, sources with direct knowledge of the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Democrats are hoping for a 50-50 split by winning two upcoming special elections in Georgia. But their best chance for an outright Senate majority ended when Cunningham lost in North Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins won in Maine.

Trump's coronavirus adviser Scott Atlas resigns

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty

Scott Atlas, a controversial member of the White House coronavirus task force, handed in his resignation on Monday, according to three administration officials who discussed Atlas' resignation with Axios.

Why it matters: President Trump brought in Atlas as a counterpoint to NIAID director Anthony Fauci, whose warnings about the pandemic were dismissed by the Trump administration. With Trump now fixated on election fraud conspiracy theories, Atlas' detail comes to a natural end.