Amy Harder


Good morning everyone, and welcome to the last week of September. It's going to be nearly 90 degrees today in Washington, D.C., which makes my latest Harder Line column particularly timely.

Born out of my own recent experience as a homeowner, I look at how air conditioners are playing catch-up to a suite of environmental rules. I'll share it below and then hand things back to Ben to get you up to speed on the rest of the news you need to know.

How your air conditioner plays catch-up to regulations

llustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Environmental rules, like any regulation, upend industries and business behavior in obscure ways. Ultimately, however, the rules usually leave consumers on the hook for the costs. I know because I'm one of them.

What you need to know: Nearly 90% of U.S. homes have air conditioners, which will need repairs at one time or another. If a technician encourages replacement of an A/C unit because of environmental rules, there are three refrigerants you need to know about, and three regulatory transitions too.

Dive deeper: Read the rest of my column in the Axios stream here.

Business news: big power deal, oil outlook, Gazprom rising

Big in power: ABB, the Swiss multinational tech and engineering giant, announced a $2.6 billion deal Monday to acquire GE Industrial Solutions, the GE unit that makes an array of electrical equipment.
  • "With GE Industrial Solutions, we strengthen our Number 2 position in electrification globally and expand our access to the attractive North American market," ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer said in a statement.
  • The GE unit — which makes a wide range of electrical equipment like transformers and circuit breakers — had revenues of $2.7 billion last year, according to ABB.
  • Go deeper: The Wall Street Journal explores how the deal is part of GE's efforts to streamline its sprawling operations.
Oil market buzz: Bloomberg takes the pulse of oil traders at the Asia Pacific Petroleum Conference in Singapore and finds more optimism than last year, thanks to stronger worldwide demand and production cuts from the cooperation between OPEC, Russia, and some other producers.
  • "Bloated crude inventories have started to shrink, and products markets — particularly diesel — are getting tighter. If 2016 was about $50 a barrel, it's $60 a barrel this year," Bloomberg reports.
  • Bloomberg also passes along the view of a top BP trader who argues that the production-cutting deal should be extended beyond the first quarter of next year in order to rebalance markets.
  • Reporting from the same event, Reuters reports on one executive's forecast that U.S. crude oil exports could grow to meet 5% of global demand within five years "as refiners seek more low-sulfur crude to meet stricter rules for cleaner fuels."

Changing of the guard: S&P Global Platts is out with its annual energy company rankings, and this year Russia's state-owned gas and oil giant Gazprom tops the list, ending the long reign of ExxonMobil, which is now 9th.

  • You can see the full 250-company list, and compare this year's rankings to prior years, right here. It's based on "asset worth, revenues, profits, and return on invested capital."

On our radar: Clean Energy Week and Capitol Hill

Get ready: An array of energy industry groups — representing wind and solar, biomass, LNG, nuclear and more — have dubbed this week "National Clean Energy Week" and scheduled a suite of events, like this symposium tomorrow where Energy secretary Rick Perry and Interior secretary Ryan Zinke are slated to appear.

Flashback: Amy wrote about the effort and the messaging behind it here, noting that the groups are seeking to "highlight how the industry is creating jobs and providing reliable electricity, with less focus on the sector's role combating climate change."

The other side: Some environmentalists are chafing at the messaging and lobbying blitz because groups involved include fossil-fuel organizations, including the American Petroleum Institute, as well as the nuclear power industry's main trade group and others. (The full list of groups is here.)

  • The environmentalists are warning of "greenwashing," and in a letter to Congress, around a dozen green groups warn that "[t]axpayer dollars should not support dangerous and dirty technologies masquerading as 'clean energy.'" Groups behind the letter include, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Earth.

A few other things on our radar this week in Congress...

DOE nominees: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets tomorrow to hear from nominees for two major Energy Department jobs: assistant secretary for fossil energy and assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability.

Tech in focus: Also Tuesday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee examines "technology's role in empowering consumers." This hearing will examine a suite of emerging technologies like microgrids, storage, and other distributed energy resources.

Nuclear: One more on a packed Tuesday — a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee will look into nuclear waste storage and management policy.

Into the Great Wide Open on solar

Big picture: This sums it up pretty well...

A Goldman Sachs note this morning says that Friday's big International Trade Commission ruling on solar was "largely expected," but adds:

  • "By 11/13, the ITC will recommend specific trade restrictions, where expectations appear to be more wide-ranging as to the extent and ultimate impact of any imposed financial remedies."
  • Simply put, things are going to be murky for a while, and that's especially true because the White House, under U.S. trade law, has wide-ranging discretion to follow whatever the ITC recommends or do something different, and either more or less aggressive.

What's next: We'll spend more time with this in the coming weeks, but there are a couple of things to watch and consider in the next phases, beginning with briefs due to the ITC this week and then a public hearing October 3.

1. Trade issues: One is how the outside parties opposed to tariffs suggest that the White House may be able to thread the needle of imposing new trade penalties without causing solar panel costs to skyrocket so much that new projects become uneconomical.

  • For instance: "Under global trade rules, a country can exempt a product from safeguard import measures from another country with which it has a free-trade agreement. If the ITC and the Trump administration insist on restricting imports in this case, they should consider this as an alternative strategy," notes Clark Packard, an analyst with the free-market R Street Institute, in a primer the group recirculated over the weekend in response to the ruling.

2. Coal question: Another wrinkle is whether the White House will view the potential trade penalties as another tool to assist coal, in addition to a chance to show a muscular trade policy imposing restrictions that hit exports from solar companies in Asia and elsewhere.

  • Moody's analysts have argued that imposing tariffs that stymie investment in solar energy could extend the life of some U.S. coal-fired power plants.

More: Here's a little perspective on that idea, from an energy expert with the Council on Foreign Relations...

  • "I think there will be at least a small lift for coal. The reason is that less solar coming online means wholesale prices won't drop as much in each market, meaning coal plants can make more revenue," Varun Sivaram tells Axios in an email.
  • "Coal plants still are going to struggle to compete with cheap gas, assuming gas prices stay low. But the marginal effect of less solar is probably to help out both coal and gas by raising wholesale prices," Sivaram said.

One good listen: Trump and U.S. energy "dominance"


Big picture: Good stuff on the latest episode of The President's Inbox, a Council on Foreign Relations podcast, where author Meghan O'Sullivan offers a lucid and helpful view of the U.S. energy boom and how it is shaking up markets and geopolitics.

Here are a couple of the many interesting points from O'Sullivan:

LNG and geopolitics: "I am not a big believer that the U.S. is going to capture a lot of Russia's market in Europe," said O'Sullivan, a former George W. Bush adviser, casting doubt on the prospect of using U.S. LNG to counter Russian influence.

Why? Longtime supplier Russia, facing more global market competition, has been willing to alter its business practices and renegotiate prices, and there are newer entrants on the global scene.

  • "A lot of foreign policy people, who may not be market people, think about, 'Well, we should be able to take away the market share from Russia, and that should be easily done and there should be no question that this is a good thing.' That overlooks the fact that this trade is done by companies, not countries or governments, and so it has to be commercial. So there is a big price element there," she said.

China: The surge in U.S. oil-and-gas production and all the supplies sloshing around global markets mean China is less anxious about access to energy, which has a beneficial effect.

  • "I do think that this energy abundant landscape that we are talking about puts China in a more comfortable position in the existing network of norms and institutions," she said.

Column / Harder Line Featured

How your air conditioner plays catch-up to regulations

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Environmental rules, like any regulation, upend industries and business behavior in obscure ways. Ultimately, however, like a tax they usually leave consumers on the hook for the costs. I know because I'm one of them.

Why it matters to most of you: Nearly 90% of U.S. homes have air conditioners. If a technician encourages you to replace your A/C because of environmental rules, don't take the bait without first getting a second (and maybe a third) opinion.

Refrigerant 101: Refrigerants enable air conditioners to keep homes cool. There's three kinds to know that regulations are affecting.

  1. Most air conditioners installed before 2010 use refrigerants that deplete the Earth's ozone layer. In industry talk, it's called Freon R22.
  2. Most newer air conditioners use refrigerants that don't hurt the ozone layer but do contribute to climate change because they emit greenhouse gases.
  3. The air-conditioning industry is researching refrigerants that are friendly to both the ozone layer and climate change, which could be on the market in the next few years. The drawback: They're mildly flammable.

Three transitions

  • Responding to the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 global treaty protecting the ozone layer, air-conditioning companies have been working to transition away from equipment with the ozone-depleting refrigerants.
  • The hole in the Earth's ozone layer is on the mend thanks to that treaty. Climate change is now the world's top environmental worry.
  • Political leaders came together last October to begin transitioning away from refrigerants that emit greenhouse gases and toward the third kind that are safe for both the ozone layer and climate change.

"We didn't anticipate having to go through a transition again as quickly as we have," said Francis Dietz, a vice president at The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, an industry trade group representing manufacturers like Honeywell and Chemours. "At the time, we were not thinking about climate change all. That was not the issue. The issue was ozone depletion."

The manufacturing industry is working to change building codes to allow new air conditioners with the mildly flammable refrigerants. That's prompting alarm among a separate set of companies that install the equipment.

"We have been concerned for contractor and consumer safety with the risk of slightly flammable refrigerants leaking into people's homes," said Don Prather, technical services manager with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, a trade group. "We recognize there are so many contractors out there doing a poor job of installing the equipment, which creates an opportunity for more leaks."

Dietz and other industry officials stress that mildly flammable appliances already exist in people's homes, like natural gas-fired stoves, and extensive testing is being done to ensure safety.

"We are doing our due diligence," Dietz said. "Nobody has the slightest interest in anything happening at somebody's house as a result of being more environmentally friendly. That's not a tradeoff we're interested in."

The EPA set a 2020 deadline to phase out R22, the ozone-depleting refrigerants. That has led some contractors, squeezed by high prices of the outgoing refrigerant, to encourage consumers to prematurely buy new air conditioners with the ozone-friendly refrigerant, which itself is set to be nearly phased out in the U.S. within 20 years.

In the middle of all this are are homeowners — like me

During a routine maintenance call recently, a technician said my A/C unit was low on refrigerant and recommended I replace it, citing the EPA ban.

Getting a new A/C with the ozone-friendly refrigerant would cost about $8,000 because my unit does heating and cooling, according to the company, United Air Temp. Founded in 1931, the company works with more than 100,000 homes in the greater Washington, D.C., area and other nearby states.

"If your heat pump or air conditioner is using Freon R22 and you need service, there is a good chance it may not be available," states an invoice I received after the technician's visit.

Describing that as "extremely misleading," Dietz said that even though R22 prices are going up due to restricted supply, it will remain available to consumers for the foreseeable future.

"We all feel badly when we have situations like this with contractors because it takes advantage of consumers' understandable lack of knowledge about these things and gives the industry a bad image that we try very hard to avoid," Dietz said.

Francis McGonegal, senior vice president with United Air Temp, said their technicians are trained to "not focus on having people replace equipment unnecessarily." Because of the EPA ban, the company's costs to buy R22 have become "exorbitant," McGonegal added.

Multiple industry officials and technicians I talked to said my experience is not too uncommon because of consumers' lack of understanding and the high costs of the refrigerant.

Data: USA Refrigerants. Per-pound price derived from price of a 30 lb. cylinder; Chart: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

What's next

Industry officials say consumers don't need to worry yet about transitioning to the third type of refrigerants. The process is long and shouldn't require people to prematurely replace their equipment. A lawsuit and uncertainty with the Trump administration's position on the policy could further slow the transition, but experts agree it's a matter of when, not if.

Even environmentalists pushing for the transition to the third type don't support premature air conditioner replacements.

"If the problem is you need more refrigerant, the best thing to do is get it recycled from someone else's machine," said David Doniger, who directs the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate and clean air program. "I think it's very important to check whether you really need a replacement."

As for me, I got two more technician opinions and a leak test that cost $150. It came back negative. I refilled my 10-year-old system, which could last at least another five years, with ozone-depleting refrigerants at a cost of $187.50. I'll get another A/C checkup within the next year, to make sure it's not leaking.


The big solar verdict: domestic industry vs. cheap foreign imports

The solar industry is on edge ahead of tomorrow's vote by the International Trade Commission. Photo: John Locher / AP

The solar industry is on edge ahead of tomorrow's vote by the International Trade Commission on whether it finds domestic solar manufacturers have been injured by cheap foreign imports. If it does — and most observers expect it will — President Trump makes the final decision on whether to impose tariffs or other trade remedies.

Driving the news: A Greentech Media article published Wednesday is making waves because it backs up the narrative asserted by the two bankrupt manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWorld: that tariffs would help revive the domestic solar manufacturing sector. The story quotes foreign solar companies weighing opening U.S. facilities as a way to hedge against potential tariffs Trump might impose.

Quoted: "If [new tariffs] come into effect, I think the clear direction that will emerge from this is that manufacturing in the U.S. will be incentivized, or supported by direct or indirect means," Gagan Pal, chief marketing officer of fast-growing Indian photovoltaic manufacturer Adani Solar, told Greentech Media.

Why it matters: This storyline feeds straight into Trump's "America First" manufacturing mantra, fueling the prediction Trump will likely issue tariffs. It also provides a competing narrative to the louder and larger opposition, led by the Solar Energy Industries Association, which has argued tariffs would raise the cost of solar panels and hurt other jobs in the sector.



Good morning from New York City, where I'll be moderating an event this evening about offshore wind at Columbia University. If you're in town, shoot me a note!

My latest Harder Line column is timely and full of exclusive details, so you won't want to miss it. It's about the industry push to get President Trump to keep Obama's other big climate policy: the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol (which, by the way, turned 30 years old on Saturday).

My Axios colleague Ben Geman will get you up to speed on everything else after my column, including all the rumors around the higher profile Paris deal. Let's get to it...

Industry to Trump: Keep Obama climate policy

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The world's biggest air conditioning and chemical companies are urging Trump to defend one of his predecessor's landmark climate policies, the Kigali amendment. So far it's working.

Why it matters: The policy, to phase down greenhouse gases emitted from refrigerants in appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators, is the only Obama-era climate policy Trump hasn't targeted for repeal. Companies, led by global chemical makers Honeywell and Chemours, are lobbying the administration to defend a regulation and support a global treaty on the issue, according to industry officials, administration officials and others involved in the issue.

Bottom line: Companies have spent millions complying with the policy and other similar standards around the world over the past several years — and they don't want that money to go to waste. To the industry and administration, this is more about financial investments than it is about climate change. That makes it non-controversial compared with the Paris climate deal.

Read the rest on the Axios stream here.

On our radar this week: solar trade decision, pipelines, nominations

Big decision: The U.S. International Trade Commission faces a Friday deadline to decide whether imported solar cells and modules are injuring the domestic panel manufacturing industry. If they decide the answer is yes — and most expect they will — the focus moves to what type of trade penalties the White House may decide to impose.

  • Why it matters: It's a big deal for the solar industry. The two manufacturers behind the petition say companies operating in the U.S. need relief from cheap Asian imports. But the wider solar industry is against the petition from Suniva and SolarWorld, arguing that the import penalties they're seeking would raise panel prices enough to wreak havoc on the economics of solar energy projects, posing a major threat to the sector's continued growth.

Nominations in focus, part 1: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote Tuesday on White House nominees for two open slots on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as picks for senior roles at the Interior and Energy Departments.

Nominations in focus, part 2: On Wednesday the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hear from nominees for several senior positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, including Bill Wehrum, Trump's pick to be the agency's top air pollution regulator.

  • Why it matters: Wehrum will play a major role in EPA's controversial and sure-to-be-litigated efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants. Expect Wehrum and another nominee, general counsel pick Matthew Leopold, to get questions about the topic.

Pipeline push: Texans for Natural Gas is stepping up its pro-pipeline digital advocacy this week with the launch of a social media campaign via Twitter, internet ads, and a mobile-focused Facebook push that a spokesman tells Axios will run well into the six figures.

  • Why it matters: The industry-backed group is seeking to promote pipelines and emphasize their safety at a time when environmental groups have been organizing against specific infrastructure projects. For instance, the group will release a paper later this week that says pipelines support 165,000 jobs in Texas and "will contribute $374 billion in total economic output between 2014 and 2024."

What's new and what's not with Trump's Paris pullout, part 1


Buzz: The big question right now is whether this week's U.N. General Assembly meeting and sideline chatter will reveal...

  • If there's any real evidence that the White House is actually seeking a pathway to staying in the Paris agreement
  • How the U.S. might seek to work with other countries on the nexus of climate and energy more broadly, even as the White House keeps pushing ahead with pro-fossil fuels policies

What's next: White House economic advisor Gary Cohn is slated to host a breakfast meeting in New York this morning with energy and climate officials from other nations.

Where it stands: All heck broke loose over the weekend when the WSJ, citing comments by White House advisor Everett Eissenstat at a meeting in Canada, reported that the U.S. would not withdraw from Paris, a report the WSJ later softened.

  • The White House batted down the claim and reiterated that the U.S. is bailing (a process that actually takes years), "unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country," per the administration's official statement.
  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also reiterated versions of that statement on the Sunday talking head shows.

What's new: Nothing and everything. The Trump administration's position, spelled out in June, is that the U.S. is theoretically open to staying in Paris under some kind of revised terms.

  • What this means: Realistically that would probably mean a watered-down U.S. emissions pledge (reflecting the reality that Trump is abandoning Obama-era domestic climate rules), and maybe some kind of symbolic statement from other parties, because there's no appetite among other countries for rewriting the 2015 pact.
Yes, but: The Cohn meeting could be a sign that the White House is perhaps cracking open the door a bit wider to the idea of staying.

What's new and what's not with Trump's Paris pullout, part 2

Continuing our discussion of comments surrounding the administration's stance on the Paris climate accord, is Andrew Light, who was a senior climate aide in Obama's State Department. He assesses the state of play and known unknowns in an email to Axios on Sunday evening...

  • "This round of comments ‎that we've heard over the weekend isn't anything new. The National Security Council and National Economic Council figures who argued for not withdrawing from the Paris Agreement have been saying for the last couple months that the administration may be willing to 're-engage,' and that this likely would come through the creation of a new U.S. pledge under Paris. It's good to see senior figures out there publicly talking about it."
  • "We don't, however, know two critical things. First, what are they thinking about in terms of a new pledge, the time line, and the process for creating it? Second, will President Trump ultimately support withdrawing the withdrawal? If I were invited to the breakfast with Gary Cohn, I'd be trying to find out as much as I could on those two issues," said Light, who is now a distinguished senior fellow with the World Resources Institute.

Thought bubble: There are two things to keep in mind here.

  • One is that for all the talk of "renegotiation," the primary deliberation is internal — under the Paris agreement, countries set their own emissions-cutting targets.
  • A second thing to watch as Cohn gathers with other countries' officials is what type of U.S. multilateral engagement might be in the offing that's technically outside of the formal U.N. framework, but meant to influence it or compliment it.

Flashback: There's precedent here. George W. Bush is correctly remembered for bailing on his campaign pledge to regulate carbon emissions. Less well remembered is that late in his presidency, Bush convened something called the "major economies meeting on energy security and climate change," the predecessor to the Obama administration-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate that met for years.

On my screen: electric cars, oil markets, microgrids

ICYMI: The New York Times published an important piece from China on Friday, reporting that General Motors chief executive Mary Barra "cautioned against the growing trend of officials in China and a number of other countries making plans to phase out sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars."

  • What to watch: Whether officials from other major automakers start pushing back against plans by France, the U.K. and other nations to set timetables in coming decades for the phaseout of internal combustion engines.

Oil markets: Bloomberg reports on concerns of a top International Energy Agency analyst that there's not enough industry spending on new supply projects to avoid a crunch in coming years. Here's what they quoted Neil Atkinson, head of IEA's oil markets division, as saying in Bahrain Sunday:

  • "There are still not enough signs of investment beginning to return, and that raises the risk of tightening of the market in the next five years and a risk to the stability of oil prices...There is at least a possibility of going back to the situation we had 10 years ago where oil prices were very, very high at a time when demand was growing."

In my ears: The latest edition of The Interchange, one of Greentech Media's podcasts, is a timely discussion of the role microgrids can play in helping to create resilience to powerful storms that wreak havoc on traditional power networks — and how some policymakers' reluctance to address climate change head-on in their planning (hello Florida) could affect deployment of the technology.

Arctic policy: The Washington Post reports on a quiet Interior Department effort to enable industry seismic testing to gauge oil resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, even though drilling in the Alaska region remains banned and would require an act of Congress to allow.

Column / Harder Line Featured

Industry to Trump: Keep Obama climate policy

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The world's biggest air conditioning and chemical companies are urging President Trump to defend one of his predecessor's landmark climate policies. So far it's working.

Why it matters: The policy, to phase down greenhouse gases emitted from refrigerants in appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators, is the only Obama-era climate policy Trump hasn't targeted for repeal. Companies, led by global chemical makers Honeywell and Chemours, are lobbying the administration to defend a regulation and support a global treaty on the issue, according to industry officials, administration officials and others involved in the issue.

The bottom line: Companies have spent millions complying with the policy and other similar standards around the world over the past several years — and they don't want that money to go to waste. To the industry and administration, this is more about financial investments than it is climate change. That makes it surprisingly non-controversial compared to the Paris climate deal.

One industry, mostly united

The industry backs a global treaty to phase down the refrigerants, which contain powerful greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs.

Led by the Obama administration, world leaders in Kigali, Rwanda, agreed last October to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down emissions of HFCs. First created 30 years ago to fix the hole in the Earth's ozone layer, that treaty is now achieving its goal.

The Kigali amendment, as it's known, has faced little political pushback compared to the Paris climate deal, which Obama entered into unilaterally and which Trump has said the United States is abandoning.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a vocal critic of the Paris accord, has not commented about this issue publicly much, if at all.

"We are very quick to distinguish the Montreal Protocol from the Paris climate deal," said Kevin Fay, executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, an industry trade group representing companies like Honeywell, Arkema, Carrier and Johnson Controls.

In his discussions urging the administration and Republican lawmakers to back the policy, Fay says he references President Ronald Reagan, who signed the Montreal Protocol in 1988 and is someone Trump admires. "It's Reagan-era environmental policy done right," Fay says.

David Stevenson, who directs energy issues at the Caesar Rodney Institute, a free-market think tank in Delaware, is the conservative movement's voice opposing the Kigali amendment.

"The Montreal Protocol is about ozone reduction, not climate change," said Stevenson, who served on Trump's team helping with the transition at EPA. "I think the administration just hasn't really looked at it too closely, and it has gotten some comments from businesses that want to keep it in place."

The reasons the industry supports the KIgali amendment are not about climate change, but business certainty.

"It really was just a matter of wanting to have one global process rather than having a patchwork of regulations that they would have to comply with," said Francis Dietz, a vice president at The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration Institute. That association represents 90% of U.S. air conditioning manufacturing and 70% of the global industry.

The big picture: This is the most aggressive example of how different types of industries are urging Trump to use caution with his regulatory rollback, in the name of business certainty. Some executives in the fossil fuel and electric power sectors are urging the administration not to issue wholesale repeals of several regulations, including a rule cutting carbon emissions from power plants.

Legal test

In February, Justice Department lawyers defended in court an Environmental Protection Agency rule phasing out certain uses of refrigerants that emit HFC's, at the behest of most companies in the industry. A divided three-judge panel of the D.C. federal appeals court ruled against EPA in August and in support of two companies arguing the agency overstepped its authority.

The administration now has to decide by Friday whether it will seek a rehearing to the full court. That decision will test whether it backs a policy most regulated companies support, despite the president's rhetoric opposing regulations and dismissing climate change. An EPA spokeswoman would not say what the agency plans to do.

"Honeywell -- and many other American companies, particularly in the heating and cooling industry -- have made significant investments based on that [EPA] standard," A Honeywell spokesperson said. "To pull that back now unfairly creates damage to U.S. industry, and threatens U.S. leadership on a global level."

Honeywell, which along with Chemours intervened in the case in support of EPA, is probably going to seek a rehearing. The two companies are working together on researching refrigerants. Chemours is also considering appealing, a spokesperson said. The industry associations also support appealing. The Natural Resources Defense Council, another intervenor, plans to appeal.

Spokespeople for the two companies that filed the lawsuit, Arkema and Mexichem Fluor, declined to comment.

Stay tuned

Because the Kigali amendment is part of the legally binding Montreal treaty, the Senate must vote on whether to ratify it. The State Department needs to first send it over. A department spokeswoman said there is no update.

The industry is in no rush, given the hyperpartisan nature of Washington these days. The amendment agreed to in Kigali is likely to go into effect for the countries that have signed it in January 2019.

"Would it be in our best interest for us to deal with that prior to then?" asked Fay of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy. "Yes."


Trump's position on the Paris accord hasn't changed

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

There's a lot of noise surrounding a WSJ story today saying the Trump administration has changed its mind on the Paris climate accord and isn't pulling out. The White House responded that there has been "no change" in the position on Paris and that the U.S. is "withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country."

Trump's position announced in June was the U.S. is bailing but willing to renegotiate. Remember it actually takes several years to formally withdraw.

Our thought bubble: Nobody has really taken this "renegotiation" idea especially seriously. Why people are surprised today is that it wasn't believed the administration was serious about really engaging on this at all. It is still a very big question how genuine their efforts are, but today's news represents the next stage regarding what Trump already said in June he was willing to do. He said the U.S. is going to withdraw unless it can get a better deal.

Bottom line: The basic question here is whether the U.S. might be cracking the door open slightly to a more serious willingness to stay in with a softened commitment.

Go deeper: What we've written before about the Trump administration's climate outreach.


Once a critic, Trump official praises solar farm for "improving"

Ivanpah solar farm in Nevada. Photo: John Locher / AP

The Energy Department's top renewable energy official on Tuesday praised a massive solar farm in California for "improving" after he criticized it while testifying to Congress last year as a conservative expert.

Daniel Simmons, the acting head of the department's renewable and energy efficiency office, toured the facility, named Ivanpah, on Sunday before giving remarks to a solar industry conference underway this week in Las Vegas.

Why it matters: Simmons' comments show the subtle ways some conservative experts known for blasting then-President Obama's policies are moderating their rhetoric as they join the federal bureaucracy that created those policies.

"It's a facility where they had substantial challenges after starting," Simmons told Axios by phone from Vegas on Tuesday. "What was impressive to me is the work they've done over the past few years improving their processes."

Two levels deeper:

  • An online news search of the solar farm shows the collection of challenges Ivanpah has had, like this March 2016 Wired article: "A huge solar plant caught on fire, and that's the least of its problems."
  • In Simmons' July 2016 testimony to a House committee, he criticized the $1.6 billion in loan guarantees Obama's Energy Department awarded the developers of Ivanpah, which included Google. "If Google (and their billionaire founders) want to take risks on new energy systems, they should use their own money instead of risking taxpayer dollars."

So does Simmons now think it was a good use of government money? "I'm not going to say that," he responded.

The bigger picture:

In his speech to the solar industry Tuesday, Simmons talked about how the Energy Department's solar office is shifting gears to focus more on providing federal funds for two types of technologies that...

  1. integrate solar onto the electricity grid
  2. enable solar to be tapped on demand, instead of just when the sun is shining

He gave cautious praise to solar as an energy type generally speaking, and said it has the ability to fulfill the four priorities of the Trump administration's energy policy: to be affordable, reliable, an economic driver and a boost to energy security.

This contrasts markedly with the thrust of his 2016 congressional testimony, where he said solar could increase foreign imports, was expensive and not reliable.

"I look forward to working with each and every one of you to overcome solar energy's critical challenges. Success will come from an honest, clear-eyed assessment of the energy industry's strengths and weaknesses," Simmons told the crowd, according to his prepared remarks reviewed by Axios. "In the coming months, you will see a shift in focus on the research, but a steadfast commitment to what I know is a shared vision: affordable and reliable energy for all."



Good Monday morning, our thoughts are with those hit by Hurricane Irma — and everyone continuing to recover after Harvey.

My latest Harder Line column offers a layman's guide — and relatable analogy — to explain the connection between climate change and extreme weather. I also have a scoop at the end about how a federally paid scientist is going to analyze climate's impact on these latest two hurricanes and maybe the wildfires hitting the western United States.

After teasing the top of my column, I'll hand things back to Ben to get you up on the latest energy news.

Climate change is like diabetes for the planet

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

There's a lot of talk lately about how climate change is affecting the hurricanes and the wildfires hitting the U.S. right now. The simple answer: Climate change doesn't cause extreme weather events. It can make them worse, and many scientists are saying that's a factor in these events.

My thought bubble: That makes climate change like diabetes for the planet.

  • People with diabetes should make sure their blood sugar levels don't get too high or too low. Diabetes can make other health conditions worse, especially when left unchecked.
  • Most world leaders are seeking to reduce greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel production and other human activity. Climate change can make naturally occurring things worse, like droughts and heatwaves. Established science predicts risks will grow the longer we leave carbon emissions unchecked.

The bottom line: Climate change is not a problem we can solve, full stop, like diabetes isn't completely curable. However, we can mitigate its impact by simultaneously cutting carbon emissions and adapting to a warmer planet.

Click here to read the rest of the column in the Axios stream.

Irma's energy effect

Please keep an eye on the Axios stream today for news about Hurricane Irma. Here's a quick rundown of some of energy impact:

Power: "The storm left more than 5.7 million customers without power and littered the state with downed trees, downed power lines and standing water," CNN reported Monday morning, citing information from Gov. Rick Scott's office.

  • Roughly 58% of the state's power customers have lost electricity, ABC notes. You can check on power losses in specific counties and by utility here.
  • Full power restoration is expected to take weeks.

Petroleum: A Goldman Sachs research note Monday morning points out that Irma will dent oil demand, but not production and processing, given the relative absence of petroleum infrastructure in its path.

  • They estimate that Irma and Harvey combined will cut around 600,000 barrels per day of crude demand in the U.S. this month. Reuters looks here are how oil traders are responding to the news.

Climate: The New York Times looks at the politics of hurricanes and global warming. For scientists, the influence of global warming on the impact of hurricanes is a logical conversation...

  • "But in Washington, where science is increasingly political, the fact that oceans and atmosphere are warming and that the heat is propelling storms into superstorms has become as sensitive as talking about gun control in the wake of a mass shooting," the NYT story notes.

Interesting discussion: The mass evacuations in Florida prompted Bloomberg New Energy Finance transportation expert Colin McKerracher to pose this question on Twitter:

  • "Honest question to those who think almost everybody will switch to mobility as a service by 2030: How will an evacuation of 6.5m ppl work?"
  • Check out the whole discussion here.

On our radar, part 1: carbon capture push in Congress

Carbon capture: Backers of more aggressive federal support for commercialization of projects to trap and store carbon emissions from coal-fired power will look for momentum this week.

What's happening: On Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee will hold a hearing on the topic, while a day later the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions will hold a symposium on the topic with four senators, industry officials, and other experts.

  • One major focus will be building support for bipartisan legislation that would expand federal tax credits for carbon capture and storage (and use in enhanced oil recovery) and make the incentive more valuable. Across Capitol Hill, GOP Rep. Mike Conaway is circulating a letter seeking cosponsors for a House companion bill.
  • The tax bill isn't technically before EPW (the Finance Committee has jurisdiction). But the Senate hearing will explore other ways to speed up deployment of carbon capture technologies that are in the wheelhouse of EPW, which oversees a suite of environmental laws that govern the topic, such as the National Environmental Policy Act
  • One issue in particular that's slated to come up is the need for pipeline infrastructure to expand enhanced oil recovery using CO2, a GOP aide said.

On our radar, part 2: climate, FERC, Korea, oil report

A few other things to watch this week on and off Capitol Hill...

House climate tussle: When the chamber renews debate on a big spending package this week, keep an eye on a couple of looming amendment votes. Still on tap are two GOP proposals that would thwart funds for EPA methane emissions rules and would block use of Obama-era estimates of the so-called social cost of carbon, a metric that helps regulators tally the benefits of avoided emissions.

  • Why it matters: While the amendments are largely symbolic, a key question is whether there could be more signals that a small but growing number of GOP lawmakers are willing to buck their party's mainstream on climate issues.

FERC member on the record: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will gather tomorrow for a hearing on power grid reliability. Neil Chatterjee, a new GOP member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, will be making his first appearance before lawmakers since winning Senate confirmation.

  • Why it matters: Chatterjee got lots of attention when he told FERC's in-house podcast last month that existing coal and nuclear power plants "need to be properly compensated to recognize the value they provide to the system." Now observers will be looking for signs of how those comments could be translated into policy specifics at FERC.
(UPDATE: This hearing was canceled due to Hurricane Irma's impact on the House schedule and members' availability.)

North Korean sanctions: The United Nations today holds a hearing on further sanctions on North Korea, that will likely pit the U.S. — which is pushing hard for a vote to cut off Kim Jong Un's lifeline of oil, most of which comes from neighboring China — against China and Russia, which are worried further sanctions will not work and will make North Korea collapse, Bloomberg reports.

Oil markets: On Wednesday the International Energy Agency will release its closely watched monthly oil market report. It's expected to address the impact of Hurricane Harvey. The report is also a monthly checkup of how IEA analysts view the progress of efforts by OPEC and Russia to ease the global supply glut.

Big in EVs: China, Uber, Tesla

All eyes on China: News broke over the weekend that Chinese officials are crafting a plan to eventually end sales of gasoline and diesel-powered cars.

The Associated Press, citing Chinese state media, reported yesterday: "The reports gave no possible target date, but Beijing is stepping up pressure on automakers to accelerate development of electrics."

Why it matters: China is the world's largest auto market. And the announcement, while vague, follows moves in a number of countries to create a horizon for the phase out of fossil-fuel vehicles. Most recently, the U.K. and France both announced over the summer that they would phase out sales in 2040.

  • What to watch: How the spate of announcements will affect the next round of long-term global forecasts for EV penetration by major energy companies and analysts — and what impact that has on global crude demand. Recent projections have already been showing increased estimates for EV growth, but EVs remain a tiny portion of the global market.

Immediate impact: Reuters reports from Shanghai that Chinese companies in the EV space — including the Warren Buffet-backed BYD Co Ltd. — saw their shares surge in trading Monday on the heels of the news about an eventual phaseout of internal combustion cars.

A couple of other notes on electrics...

Uber: In case you missed it, the company pledged Friday that by the end of 2019, every car available via UberX in London will be hybrid or fully electric.

  • "We're starting in the capital but aim to meet the same standard — 100% hybrid or fully electric cars on uberX with no diesels on the app — across the U.K. by the end of 2022," the company said.
  • Fortune has more on the pledge here.
Tesla: The company remotely extended the battery range of vehicles for free to help owners in Florida with their hurricane evacuations. "The update temporarily unlocked the full battery potential for 75-kilowatt-hour Model S sedans and Model X SUVs, adding another 30 to 40 miles to their range," MarketWatch reports.

Solar is growing but faces headwinds

U.S. quarterly photovoltaic installations, Q1 2012 to Q2 2017. Chart: GTM Research/SEIA

State of the ship: The Solar Energy Industries Association, the sector's main trade group, and GTM Research are out with their latest quarterly snapshot of U.S. solar photovoltaic installations and trends. A few toplines...

  • The second quarter saw 2.39 gigawatts worth of solar capacity additions, making it the largest Q2 total ever (see the quarterly installations chart above).
  • Yes, but: The residential rooftop market is slowing. That portion of that total additions — 563 megawatts — is 17% lower than the same three-month stretch a year earlier.
  • "Slowdown in residential solar is largely a function of national installers scaling back operations in major state markets as they prioritize profitability over growth," said Austin Perea, an analyst with GTM Research.
  • Predictions: Overall, the groups forecast addition of 12.4 gigawatts in 2017, a decline from the record 14.76 gigawatts added last year.
  • Nonetheless, GTM Research and SEIA predict that U.S. installed solar capacity will triple over the next five years — but also warn that new import penalties on solar equipment that the White House may impose would result in a "substantial downward revision" in that prediction.
Trend they flagged: Utilities are increasingly buying and building solar based on cost-competitiveness alone, according to the industry group. They said so-called voluntary procurement, as opposed to projects driven by policy and regulatory mandates, accounted for 59% of such procurement through the first half of the year.

Clinton's coal flashback

Coal regrets: A snippet buried in this NYT piece on Hillary Clinton's upcoming book caught my eye. Clinton believes her biggest gaffe of the campaign was saying in Ohio that, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business."

But the NYT adds:

  • "Mrs. Clinton insisted that the line was taken out of context, but said Mr. Obama had fed the narrative of Democratic hostility toward coal miners by announcing a plan that set state-by-state targets for carbon emissions reductions, and a framework for meeting them, at the White House, next to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency."

Column / Harder Line Featured

Climate change is like diabetes for the planet

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

There's a lot of talk lately about how climate change is affecting the hurricanes and wildfires hitting the United States right now. The simple answer: Climate change doesn't cause extreme weather events. It can make them worse, and many scientists are saying that's a factor in these events.

That makes climate change like diabetes for the planet.

  • People with diabetes should make sure their blood sugar levels don't get too high. Diabetes can make other health conditions worse, especially when left unchecked.
  • Most world leaders are seeking to reduce greenhouse gases from fossil-fuel production and other human activity. Climate change can make naturally occurring things worse, like droughts and heatwaves. Established science predicts risks will grow the longer we leave carbon emissions unchecked.

The bottom line: Climate change is not a problem we can solve, full stop, like diabetes isn't completely curable. The best we can do is simultaneously cut carbon emissions and adapt to a warmer planet.

We should be humble about what we don't know regarding the connection between extreme weather and climate change.


Headline after headline makes the connection between hurricanes and climate change. It's a messier picture than any headline can convey, scientists say.

"We all agree that humans influence warming," said Andrew Sobel, who directs an extreme weather and climate initiative at Columbia University. "There is more uncertainty about hurricanes."

Here are the two main ways some scientists say climate change is making hurricanes worse:

  • Warmer temperatures are melting land ice like glaciers (not to be confused with floating ice caps). That causes sea levels to rise. Storm surges in hurricanes are then worse because the flooding that would have occurred anyway is starting higher than it would have otherwise.
  • Warmer temperatures in the ocean and air drives more moisture in the atmosphere, which can create more rainfall and energy for any given storm. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which combs through pretty much all peer-reviewed scientific reports on the issue, has "concluded that substantial increases are found in heavy precipitation events." That includes hurricanes.

Yes, but: The fact we hadn't had a major hurricane come onshore on U.S. soil in more than a decade is a common but mistaken argument of those who don't acknowledge the scientific consensus that human activity is driving the Earth's temperature up. Climate change isn't creating new hurricanes in the ocean. It is a factor that can make hurricanes that are forming regardless more intense. The U.N. and others have said a warmer planet will not necessarily increase the number of hurricanes.


Most scientific studies show that wildfires across the western U.S. have increased in recent decades. The two biggest reasons:

  • Hotter temperatures: Forests dry out and are more primed for wildfires that are more rampant than they otherwise would have been with lower temperatures. The U.N.'s summary of science has concluded it's "very likely" the number of warm days and nights is increasing around the world. The west has seen extreme heat this summer.
  • More firefighting: The century-old practice of suppressing wildfires has ironically helped cause wildfires to be more intense when they do burn because there is more forest to burn.

What's next: Some scientists, including Michael Wehner at the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, are planning to analyze the impact climate change likely had on hurricanes Harvey and Irma and possibly other recent extreme weather events, including the wildfires. The analyses are expected to take at least a few weeks.

"I believe that there is a human contribution to each of these extreme weather events," Wehner said by email. "However, due to human resource limitations we won't be able to analyze them all and will need to choose carefully."


Trump likely to issue solar tariffs

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

President Trump is probably going to slap tariffs on solar-energy imports if a federal trade agency recommends them, according to an administration official and other experts.

"I would place the odds of the president agreeing to some type of remedy at 90%," said a Trump administration official familiar with the issue.

Why it matters: Speculation has risen that the Trump administration is sympathetic to putting tariffs on solar imports after Axios reported that Trump implored his staff to "bring" him tariffs. The move, if it plays out this way, would rattle the global solar industry and give Trump a way to prove he's protecting American jobs, even if it is in in an industry he hasn't talked about much at all.

What to watch: The International Trade Commission, which heard arguments for and against the issue a few weeks ago, will decide by Sept. 22 whether the U.S. industry is being "injured" (hurt economically) by cheap solar imports. If it does, it will send its recommendations to Trump by mid-November. If it doesn't, then Trump doesn't face any decision.

To be clear: Trump is unpredictable (that much we can predict), and whether he faces an imminent decision depends on how the ITC rules. A White House spokeswoman said there are no announcements at this time.

More predictions: "I think he will impose tariffs on imported solar panels," said David Goldwyn, a former Obama State Department official, at an event hosted Thursday by the Atlantic Council think tank. "The president wants a tariff. All he wants to use is a hammer and solar is the nail." Other experts on the panel, including Jeff Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, agreed with Goldwyn's take.

The back story:

  • In April, the bankrupt manufacturer Suniva, later joined by SolarWorld, petitioned the International Trade Commission for new tariffs on cells and a price floor on modules, arguing that cheap foreign imports are throttling the domestic panel industry.
  • The wider solar industry, via the Solar Energy Industries Association, and other critics say the companies have been run poorly. They argue that granting their petition would wreak havoc on the economics of U.S. solar projects by significantly increasing the cost of components.

The opposing sides weigh in:

  • Abby Hopper, president and CEO of solar trade group, said Thursday it was premature to make any predictions about Trump's position because the ITC hasn't issued its decision yet. She also said remedies don't necessarily need to be tariffs.
  • Suniva, arguing that more than two dozen other companies have gone bankrupt in the past five years because of cheap imports, said in a statement it would be "very supportive" of a Trump decision in favor of tariffs.