Jul 8, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Why climate policy is go big or go home

An illustration of a rubix cube with a globe print
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The onslaught of energy infrastructure news over the last 72 hours highlights the gains of activists pushing to block fossil fuel projects — and why efforts to curb supply are a small piece of the climate puzzle.

Catch up fast: Over the last three days...

  • Dominion Energy and Duke Energy scrapped plans for a big gas pipeline.
  • Dominion Energy sold its gas transmission and storage assets to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Energy.
  • A federal judge ordered the shut down of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • The Supreme Court declined, for now, to allow Keystone XL pipeline construction.

Why it matters: The burst of news underscores why tackling climate change will require far more than thwarting development.

  • It's why big policy proposals, like former Vice President Joe Biden's plan or the recent proposal from House Democrats, are such a grab bag of policies.
  • They encompass some supply restrictions — such as thwarting new oil-and-gas development on public lands — coupled with lots of provisions on efficiency, vehicle electrification, decarbonizing industrial sectors, and a lot more.

Yes, but: There’s an important point in a new note about Dakota Access from the research arm of the investment bank UBS, which shows why climate advocates, even the "keep it in the ground" wing, know that wider-ranging policy is essential.

  • Halting the pipeline raises shipping costs for oil producers in the Bakken region, but will bring "positive market share benefit to other oil producing basins" in Texas, Canada and elsewhere, UBS notes.
  • In other words, yanking Dakota Access offline (if challenges to the decision fail) may change where some oil production ultimately happens — but not if.

In the same vein, Moody's analysts, in a new note, say that selling its gas assets will help Dominion meet its climate change goals.

  • "It will immediately reduce the company’s carbon and methane exposure," they write.
  • But, needless to say, that does not affect overall use of the fuels on its own. It just means the assets are changing hands.

My thought bubble: It's an obvious point, but one worth making in the great pipeline freakout of July 2020.

Go deeper: Hear more about this on this morning's "Axios Today" podcast. Listen here.

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