Jun 29, 2021 - Podcasts

Record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest

A massive heat dome — an atmospheric trap of hot ocean air — has had temperatures soaring in the Pacific Northwest for days.

  • Plus, Republicans consider taxing Big Tech to close the digital divide.
  • And, movies in theaters are back...fast and furious.

Guests: Amy Harder, vice president at Breakthrough Energy, and Axios' Margaret Harding McGill and Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced in partnership with Pushkin Industries. The team includes Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Dan Bobkoff, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Sabeena Singhani, Amy Pedulla, Naomi Shavin, and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected].

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, June 29th. I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s how we’re making you smarter today: Republicans consider taxing big tech to close the digital divide. Plus, theater movies are BACK, fast and furious.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: living through the record-breaking heat in the Pacific Northwest.

A massive heat dome, or an atmospheric trap of hot ocean air, has temperatures soaring in the Pacific Northwest. And it’s been like this for days. We heard from several of you, including listener Kat with her local take from Portland:

KAT: I'm recording this at 9:00 AM on Monday, June 28th, and it's already over 90 degrees with 116 as the forecast for today, this city is not made for this. Our infrastructure is not built for it. Our streetcar and light rail train are both down until tomorrow night because the power cables are melting. Stores are blocking frozen sections because coolers can't take the heat. Our roads are crumbling under the pressure of high temperatures, almost all food carts and restaurants are closed. A devastating blow to business owners who just opened up after COVID. Our public pools are even closed because it's simply not safe to be outside. The vast majority of homes and apartments here are not built with AC and stores have been sold out of fans for over a week. This isn't a once in a lifetime event. This is a once in a several dozen lifetimes event.

NIALA: Thanks again to listener Kat from Portland for sharing that with us. Now for some reaction to that, and what’s happening in Washington State plus the bigger picture here, we’re joined by my former Axios colleague, Amy Harder who’s now Vice President at Breakthrough Energy. That’s a Bill Gates’ funded network that’s supporting the transition to clean energy. Hi Amy.

AMY: Hello, it’s great to be here.

NIALA: Amy, is this a one in several dozen lifetimes event?

AMY: Certainly looking backwards, that's how scientists and meteorologists would describe this type of event, but we really shouldn't be doing that. We should be looking forward and climate change is going to make these types of events far more common. Look all around the Pacific Northwest region, throughout Oregon and Washington and up into British Columbia and Canada, records are falling not by a couple of degrees, but by several degrees and by several days. On Monday, it reached 117 degrees in Salem, Oregon, and Seattle, which is where I live. has breached, is about to breach a hundred degrees. My friends in Seattle are frantically trying to find places to work during the day. This is coming on top of a pandemic where many people are still working from home. So it's just crazy to think that this city, similar to Portland, these cities are not equipped for this type of heat, but they're going to have to adapt.

NIALA: How do cities or regions start to plan for weather events like this, Amy?

AMY: Well, in a very clumsy, messy frantic way but we can't just be responding reactively to these extreme weather events. This type of event, although it's shocking to many people, was very predictable. This is how climate change is going to impact us. And so what needs to happen is the infrastructure needs to be upgraded before these things happen. Not unlike what happened in Texas with the deep freeze where the infrastructure there can't handle the cold weather, same here, and that's expensive and city officials and others don't want to fork over the money to do it until after a crisis happens. But we need to change that thinking.

NIALA: What kind of infrastructure upgrades do cities need to be making?

AMY: Well, just as the listener said, being able to run electric buses, for example, on the wires are shut down. I think a similar situation is happening in Seattle. And so, you know, these problems are hitting lower income and communities of color even more. In some of these multi-unit buildings, for example, the building owners need to have the money to install air conditioning and so maybe that's something that could be subsidized from a city or state level. And something that I've been thinking a lot about is, humans tend to be optimistic in sort of irrational ways. I think many of us are thinking, “Oh, this is really hot, but it'll blow over and then it'll be fine.” But it won't blow over, maybe the next year won't be as hot, but in two, three years, it might be really hot again. And so we need to start thinking in a more realistic way. These things are going to come. It's just a matter of time when, and so we need to plan.

NIALA: Amy Harder is the Vice President at Breakthrough Energy. Thanks, Amy.

AMY: You're welcome. Thanks so much.

NIALA: We'll be back in 15 seconds with Republican moves to tax big tech.


NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I’m Niala Boodhoo. We’ve talked on the show about this digital divide that the pandemic deepened in the U.S., and how many Americans don’t have reliable access to the internet -- including young people who need it for school. The issue has become a bipartisan priority and now a number of key Republicans are warming up to the idea of taxing big tech companies to help fund the expansion of broadband in rural areas.

Margaret Harding McGill is a tech reporter for Axios and has been tracking this issue. Good morning, Margaret!

MARGARET HARDING MCGILL: Good morning, thank you for having me.

NIALA: Margaret, there's this idea of taxing tech companies. How would that work?

MARGARET: Right now, Americans pay a fee on their phone bill that goes into this fund called the Universal Service Fund. It used to be used to help make sure that Americans had access to phone service, but more and more it's being used to ensure access to broadband.

But the problem is that fee has been increasing as the revenue base decreases because, you know, fewer and fewer people are using the phone. There's this idea from the FCC commissioner, Brendan Carr, who says, “Well, the companies that really rely on the internet and benefit from it, these big internet companies, they should be the ones paying into this fund now.”

NIALA: So would that be like Apple, for example, like how much would they have to pay?

MARGARET: Sure, so the idea would be that companies that benefit from using internet networks would have to pay into the fund. So Apple would pay through its use of the app store. Amazon might have to pay for video streaming; Facebook and Google because of the money they make through online advertising. It's really unclear how much this would be but the current Universal Service Fund is a 9 billion dollar fund and the Biden administration is contemplating 65 billion for broadband to connect all Americans. So there's a huge range there as well.

NIALA: Margaret, it's rare for Republicans to support taxes on corporations. Does this new bipartisan effort mean this is something that could actually happen?

MARGARET: Well, I thought it was very interesting to see the number of Republicans who got on board with this so quickly. Minority leader, Kevin McCarthy has said any conversation about building out broadband should include a big tech user fee. And I think it's partially because it's kind of popular to beat up on big tech right now.They're an easy target. Now on the bipartisan front - it's unclear how many Democrats in Congress would support this. If it's a bipartisan bill, I think that this could go somewhere because it's a problem that does need to be solved.

NIALA: Margaret Harding McGill covers tech policy for Axios in Washington. Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET: Thank you.

NIALA: A lot of you may be eyeing a return to the movie theater this week, especially if you're in a spot experiencing the serious heat we've been talking about.

Well, there's some good news on the movie industry front - F9, the latest installment in the Fast and Furious franchise this week brought in the most money at the box office of any film since the pandemic began.

Sara Fischer is Axios’ media reporter. Sara, good morning.


NIALA: Does the Fast and Furious mean we're finally seeing a reemergence of in-theater movies?

SARA: We're definitely seeing a re-emergence, but I don't expect moviegoing to return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon, if ever. Even though F9 had an explosive weekend at the North American box office bringing in over $70 million, its debut is still smaller than other Fast and Furious franchises. And it's still not open to every theater in the U.S. So remember just 80% of theaters are open in North America so we're not totally out of the gate yet.

NIALA: Sara, while we have you, there were some other big media news that broke yesterday - a federal judge dismissing an FTC antitrust suit against Facebook. Why does this matter?

SARA: Well, it matters because Facebook shareholders are so skiddish around regulatory events that when they heard the news that this was dismissed, Facebook stock actually shot up almost 5% sending Facebook into the trillion dollar market value club.

But it also matters because it could give the FTC another chance to relook at their complaint and maybe make it even more powerful. So it's both a good and a bad thing for Facebook

NIALA: Axios’ Sara Fischer writes the Media Trends newsletter. Thanks, Sara.

SARA: Thank you, Niala.

NIALA: That’s all we’ve got for you today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or reach out to me on twitter.

If you want more news before tomorrow - tune into our afternoon podcast Axios Re:Cap.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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