Ben Geman
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Trump administration greenlights Keystone XL

The Trump administration has issued a presidential permit to TransCanada to build Keystone XL. President Trump is expected to speak on the issue at 10:15 this morning.

What's next: The years-long fight over the pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberta's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries will probably enter uncharted waters soon: a court challenge from groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club over federal approval of the project.

Where else: The expected federal court fight is just one venue. Another is the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and another is the streets — look for green groups and their allies to revive the highly visible protest movement that helped to defeat Keystone under Obama.

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Generate

Happy Friday! Today's edition ends week three of Generate. So I want to sincerely thank everyone who is reading and providing feedback. I'm having fun with it. You know who isn't having fun? GOP lawmakers and White House aides scrambling to salvage their health care bill. It's an earthquake of a story, and our Vitals health care newsletter is an indispensable guide to what's happening. You can sign up here. Ok, let's get back to energy....

The legal fight awaiting Keystone’s comeback

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By now you've probably heard that the Trump administration will green-light the Keystone XL pipeline today (or Monday at the latest).

What's next: The years-long fight over the pipeline that would bring crude oil from Alberta's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries will probably enter uncharted waters soon: a court battle over federal approval of the project.

  • Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club are expected to challenge the decision. Environmental lawyers will likely argue that the Trump administration ran afoul of the National Environmental Policy Act by supporting Keystone without changing the underlying, multi-year study that led the Obama administration to reject it.
  • NEPA and administrative procedure law basically gives opponents of federal decisions the chance to argue that agencies didn't do their homework right. One attorney believes there's an opening to attack the federal approval because it's "based on basically no new information."

Where else: The expected federal court fight is just one venue. Another is the Nebraska Public Service Commission, and another is the streets — look for green groups and their allies to revive the highly visible protest movement that helped to defeat Keystone under Obama.

How blockchain could change the power industry

The Harvard Business Review is out with a new look at how blockchain technology could alter the way electricity is managed and is starting to already, especially as more distributed sources like solar energy come into the system.

  • "[I]f it proves reliable and scalable, blockchain technology may ultimately accelerate the transition to what the energy industry calls a 'distributed world' made up of both large and smaller power-generation systems for homes, businesses, and communities."

Why it matters: The piece lays out several ways that the decentralized transaction technology could shake things up, with examples such as:

  • Enabling one factory to easily sell a few minutes of unused power during downtime to another that needs it.
  • Allowing customers to switch power suppliers more quickly.
  • Serving as a "backbone" for utilities' smart-grid management systems.

Trump’s SEC choice backs climate disclosure

President Donald Trump's pick to run the Securities and Exchange Commission urged companies to comply with the SEC's 2010 guidance that calls for them to disclose risks to their business from climate change and climate policy.

  • "Public companies should be very mindful of that guidance as they are crafting their disclosure," Jay Clayton said during Thursday's nomination hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

Why it matters: Earlier this month in Generate I quoted one disclosure advocate predicting a Trump-appointed SEC would back off work in this area, but Clayton's brief comment suggests it might keep at least one eye on it.

What's next: I'll be checking to see if any senators try and flesh out his position more in the written questions from lawmakers that typically follow the in-person hearings.

Trump ally: Stay in Paris deal with weaker pledge

A Trump ally is trying to rally GOP support for an idea that's getting more and more buzz: keeping the U.S. in the Paris climate deal but explicitly scaling back the ambition of the country's commitment. Trump has not yet announced whether he'll seek to withdraw the U.S. from Paris.

  • North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, who was an energy adviser to Trump's campaign, is seeking colleagues' signatures on a letter that calls for replacing the Obama-era pledge to cut emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025 with a new one that "does no harm to our economy;" ending payments to UN-backed green energy funds; and pushing for low-emissions coal technologies, among other things.

Why it matters: Signatures from pro-fossil fuel and conservative lawmakers on the letter could provide Trump cover to back away from his pledge to flatly abandon the Paris pact, if he decided on that route.

Pushback: Anti-Paris hardliners probably won't give up their fight. Tom Pyle of the Koch-backed American Energy Alliance, who led Trump's energy transition team, threw some shade at Cramer by tweeting a clip of Trump pledging, in Cramer's state, to "cancel" the Paris deal.

Hill energy vet changes gears

Plenty of energy journalists know Rosemarie Calabro Tully, the press secretary for Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

But in mid-April she starts a new gig as director of public affairs and federal communications for the National Biodiesel Board. Congrats!

Lightning round

The big Italian oil company Eni says it has struck oil off Mexico's coast in Campeche Bay. The Financial Times has more here.

  • Why it matters: According to Eni, it's the first well drilled by a major international oil company since Mexico opened up its state oil sector to outside investment in 2013.

The head of a GOP climate group is challenging what he calls misperceptions about their recent policy proposal.

  • Ted Halstead writes on the Axios website that the plan, backed by James Baker and other Bush- and Reagan-era vets, is way more than just a carbon tax. "To describe our plan as a carbon tax is akin to describing Social Security as a payroll tax. Focusing exclusively on the funding mechanism ignores that which makes both Social Security and our proposal popular and populist," he writes.

A new Reuters analysis puts a common claim about regulation to the test. While Trump has made a big deal about nixing regulations that he says are hindering the energy sector, Reuters analyzed public securities filings and concludes:

  • "[T]he top U.S. oil and gas companies have been telling their shareholders that regulations have little impact on their business ... 13 of the 15 biggest U.S. oil and gas producers said that compliance with current regulations is not impacting their operations or their financial condition."

Volvo has tapped Kountoupes Denham LLC as outside lobbyists, according to a newly posted Lobbying Disclosure Act filing that says the firm will represent Volvo on "Auto Safety, Energy, Environment." (That could mean anything — your Generate host has long wished LDA filings would be more descriptive.)

A couple final notes as we head into the weekend. Axios' Mike Allen is interviewing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at 8 a.m. this morning in the debut of our News Shapers events series. Check out the Axios stream for coverage of that event, today's Capitol Hill showdown on health care, and much more. Your tips and feedback are always welcome at ben@axios.com, and Generate will be back early Monday morning. Have a great weekend.

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Generate

Good morning and welcome back to Generate, where today we're taking a tour of energy and climate news that ranges from Washington to the Gulf of Mexico and up to the Arctic. Please email tips and feedback to your well-traveled (not really) host at ben@axios.com. Let's look around . . .

It’s the lease you could do

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It's easy to forget amid the onshore shale boom, but big, deep-pocketed energy companies are still interested in new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

  • Yesterday's Interior Department lease sale for tracts in the central Gulf—the most coveted part—drew nearly $275 million in winning bids for 163 tracts spanning around 914,000 acres.
  • Shell had the highest winning bid total by far at $56 million, followed by Statoil, Hess, Chevron and Exxon.
  • That's up from last year's central Gulf sale, which attracted $156 million in high bids, but nowhere near the salad days when oil prices were stronger. Sales in 2012 and 2013 drew well over $1 billion each.

Insight: Analysts from Wood Mackenzie made a few points in a post-game podcast . . .

  • The industry still has confidence in finding and economically producing oil in the deepwater Gulf.
  • Most of the bids were around producers' existing operations and infrastructure, but in addition to consolidating their positions, there was some frontier acreage added.
  • One surprise: Statoil's roughly $45 million in winning bids, given the buzz for months that the Norwegian oil giant might bail on the Gulf.

The lights are on, but . . .

Lawmakers who will craft fiscal year 2018 spending plans for enviro and energy agencies will probably be stuck in low gear until the Trump administration fills out. Rep. Mike Simpson, who heads a subcommittee that writes DOE's spending plan, said it's been a "challenge" getting undersecretaries and staff in place.

Why it matters: The White House has floated aggressive budget cuts for message purposes, but the absence of a detailed plan and the lack of agency staff could keep the spending process from really getting down to specifics for a while. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Appropriations Committee member who oversees Interior and EPA, said new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who she has met with in recent days, is also dealing with the lean times:

  • "He's told me that he has got the same problems. … It's getting these departments staffed up and getting the folks on the ground confirmed and up to speed."
Another wrinkle: OMB Director Mick Mulvaney sent agency heads a March 17 memo warning that for now any testimony before Congress should be limited to what's in last week's "skinny" proposal. A more detailed plan is expected in May.

The House Republicans picking climate science fights

Two gavel-wielding House Republicans are gearing up to challenge the scientific consensus on global warming.

  • On Wednesday, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith announced a March 29 hearing on climate science that will include a pair of scientists who have broken with the vast majority of their colleagues on the issue. The Hill has a primer here.
  • Rep. John Shimkus, who heads an Energy and Commerce subcommittee on the environment, told reporters yesterday that he's planning a hearing, at some point, on the "endangerment finding." That's EPA's 2009 conclusion about the dangers of greenhouse gas pollution that underpins its Obama-era carbon regulations.
Why it matters: Even as many Republicans frame their case against Obama's regulations around economic arguments and challenging Obama's interpretation of the Clean Air Act, a vocal contingent of the GOP is also keeping up their rebellion against mainstream climate science.

The shrinking reach of Arctic sea ice

National Snow and Ice Data Center

The winter reach of Arctic sea ice is at record lows for the third straight year, according to National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) analysis based on four decades of satellite records.

Why it matters: It's fresh evidence of climate change at a time of raging political battles over U.S. policy.

  • The maximum ice reach has been dropping an average of 2.8 percent per decade since 1979, according to NASA.
  • This year's maximum is 471,000 square miles below the 1981-2010 average and 37,000 square miles less than the previous low maximum in 2015, NSIDC said.
  • "This is just another exclamation point on the overall loss of Arctic sea ice coverage that we've been seeing. . . . We're heading for summers with no sea ice coverage at all," Mark Serreze, NSIDC's director, tells the New York Times.
  • The meager ice reach follows a very warm fall and winter in the Arctic Ocean that saw temperatures around 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit above average, and far warmer in some spots.

Speed round

Ethanol advocates are adding lobbying muscle as fights over the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard intensify.

  • The biofuels producer Poet and the trade group Growth Energy both signed up Heather Podesta + Partners, new lobbying filings here and here show.

Bloomberg reports that environmentalists are carefully pouring over Trump's tweets and the phrasing of his executive orders for evidence of political motive or pre-cooked decisions about regulatory reviews.

  • Why it matters: Their piece notes that activists could use Trump's words in court battles over rules, and that lobbyists are urging the White House to be careful.
New Gallup polling shows a wide partisan gap in how people view the state of the environment.

And finally . . .

Do climate change deniers deserve special legal protections? A Maine lawmaker says yes.

Via the Associated Press:

  • "Maine laws protect people from discrimination based on factors such as race, disabilities and sexual orientation, and a Republican lawmaker wants to add a person's beliefs about climate change to that list."

Thanks for reading. Oh, and if you want sharp but brief analysis of the seismic battle over healthcare on Capitol Hill, I'd really recommend signing up for Vitals, our morning healthcare newsletter. The sign up page for all our newsletters is here. And they're free!

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Good morning and welcome back to Generate! I'll add another reminder to sign up for our free daily newsletters on healthcare, tech, politics and more, which you can do here. And tips and feedback are always welcome at ben@axios.com. Let's dive in ...

Carbon tax whiplash

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There was a burst of Beltway chatter about carbon taxes yesterday afternoon. If you missed it, here's what happened:

  • First it looked, surprisingly, like the White House might kind of, sort of be considering a carbon tax. Sean Spicer, asked about the topic, said broadly that there's a "robust debate going on with respect to tax reform." So . . . he's saying there's a chance!
  • But then, a few hours later, the White House closed the door on the idea. "The Trump administration is not considering a carbon tax," an official said.

Why it matters: The (briefly) muddled signs on carbon taxes are part of a larger uncertainty about where exactly Trump will land on climate change. Yes, he's very gung-ho about dismantling EPA rules and other domestic climate policies. But the White House has given mixed signals about whether the U.S. will abandon the Paris climate accord, and whether Trump still flatly disputes climate science.

Notes from the shale oil surge

GIPHY

Oil majors are getting very serious: Bloomberg nicely lays out how the most powerful companies are "jumping into American shale with gusto" with a surge of new investments.

  • Exxon, Shell and Chevron plan to spend $10 billion combined this year.
  • Costs are falling: Shell says it makes money in the Permian when oil is at $40 per barrel, and new wells are profitable at $20.
  • The price collapse a couple years ago has refocused the majors' strategy on lower costs and projects that bring in cash quickly.

Marathon Oil expands Permian foothold: The big independent company is spending $700 million to snap up acreage on the New Mexico side of the Permian basin, where production is booming.

Goldman Sachswarns, via Reuters, in an analysis saying two forces are converging that shale is booming while mega-projects from the industry's big capital spending days of 2011-2013 are coming online. The result could be oversupply in the next couple years.

Nuclear doings

Happening today: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will probably approve bipartisan legislation that aims to bolster the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's ability to license next-wave nuclear reactor technologies.

  • Something to watch: whether GOP leadership shows any appetite for bringing it to the floor, or whether it instead gets pulled into the "could become part of comprehensive energy legislation" quicksand.

The Breakthrough Institute is out with a new report titled, "How to Make Nuclear Innovative: Lessons From Other Advanced Industries." Their bottom line about this languishing industry:

  • It's time to tilt the playing field away from legacy companies toward "smaller, more entrepreneurial startups."
  • Shifts in other industries — like airlines, pharma, spaceflight and fracking — offer good lessons.
  • They have recommendations! Such as: Creating a "staged" NRC process that accommodates new and evolving designs and that's more financially friendly for small firms trying to license their tech; significant R&D funding and better collaboration between national labs and industry.

Climate policy vets battle with their pens

Sometimes I read things so you don't have to.

From the left: Democratic uber-operative John Podesta, the force behind lots of Obama climate policies, has a new piece on climate activism in the Trump era. Some takeaways from his Center for American Progress essay:

  • A number of states and cities have robust programs that help form an "alternate path for climate action."
  • Polling consistently shows backing for carbon-cutting policies.
  • Falling renewables costs and growing deployment mean that green energy gains under Obama can withstand short-term policy changes.
  • 2017 governors races in Virginia and New Jersey could be a referendum on Trump's environmental policies.

From the right: Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute, a top adviser to Mitt Romney's 2012 run, argues in Foreign Affairs that while human-induced climate change is real, the level of despair and freakout is way out of sync with what's projected about the severity and economic impact.

  • Cass, calling for pragmatism, argues "catastrophism" brings bad behavior and policy in its wake. "It has produced calls for the investigation and prosecution of dissenters and disregard for constitutional limitations on government power."

Coal’s global slowdown

The amount of coal-fired power under development worldwide took a sharp downturn in 2016, according to a new data from several green groups, owing mostly to coal-hungry China and India hitting the brakes.

Here are some top-line findings:

  • Pre-construction activity is down by half, and there's a 62 percent drop in construction starts. Ongoing construction is down by about a fifth.
  • Construction is "frozen" at over 100 sites in China and India, and there has been a surge in coal plant retirements in Europe and the U.S.

Why it matters: The groups — CoalSwarm, the Sierra Club and Greenpeace — say the the shrinking global coal pipeline puts the goal of holding global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels "within feasible reach."

  • But that said, several things would need to keep breaking against coal for that to happen. Among them: meeting that target "would require much faster retirement of existing capacity, particularly in the world's historic emitters," the groups note.

Thanks for reading! Please check out the Axios stream for more coverage, and I'll see you right back here tomorrow morning.

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Update: White House not considering carbon tax

Andrew Harnik / AP

That was fast. A few hours after White House press secretary Sean Spicer gave an ambiguous answer about whether the administration is considering a carbon tax, the White House took it off the table.

"The Trump Administration is not considering a carbon tax," an official said.

Why it matters: The statement puts a cork in the longshot idea that the White House would throw its weight behind a carbon tax plan.

Former Secretary of State and the Treasury James Baker and other backers had pushed the idea in a meeting with senior White House officials early last month.

  • "Part of the [National Economic Council's] responsibility in coordinating economic policy for the President is to listen to a range of viewpoints on various issues," the White House official said in the statement ruling out a carbon tax.
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Sean Spicer declines to slam the door on carbon tax

AP

White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to rule out consideration of a carbon tax when asked about the idea at Tuesday's White House briefing:

There's a robust debate going on with respect to comprehensive tax reform … I'm not going to comment on specific prongs of that.

Why it matters: It's a bit puzzling that the White House is not flatly slamming the door, because a carbon tax has almost no buy in or political traction among influential Republicans. It's at least the second time Spicer has declined to rule it out.

  • A spokesman for Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell reaffirmed Tuesday that he has "long been an opponent of an energy tax." Groups such as Heritage Action and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity are strongly opposed.

Flashback: In early February Republican elders from the Bush presidencies and the Reagan era—including James Baker, Hank Paulson and George Shultz—pitched a plan to tax emissions, return the money to the public, and scuttle climate regulations.

  • In February Baker and some other backers met with senior White House officials including top economic adviser Gary Cohn and chief of staff Reince Priebus. Spicer batted aside questions about it at the time without ruling it out then either.
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Generate

Good morning and welcome back to Generate! Today I'll turn things over to a colleague to explain what's ailing coal, and then we'll get back to what's new in the business and politics of energy. Without further ado ...

Trump on coal: promises, promises

Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Last night President Trump said this in Louisville, Kentucky:

  • "As we speak we are preparing new executive actions to save our coal industry and to save our wonderful coal miners from continuing to be put out of work."

That's probably a reference to a long-awaited executive order to begin unwinding carbon emissions rules for power plants and upend other Obama-era climate policies.

But just in time, Axios wunderkind Shane Savitzky has a good piece up about why Trump's pledge probably won't become reality. Check it out here. His bottom line: "The energy market has moved past coal, and those jobs simply aren't coming back."

Speed read

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The Interchange, one of Greentech Media's podcasts, has an in-depth look at what's next for offshore wind in the U.S., which looks poised for growth after a very, very slow start.

  • A big takeaway if you don't have 37 minutes to spare: Look for the action to remain centered on the northeast. Why? Lots of population, strong winds, shallow waters that reduce costs, rather high power prices.

The Associated Press has the latest on Democratic state AG's probe of Exxon's climate work.

A deep dive in the Wall Street Journal explores how Royal Dutch Shell is changing its operations to make behemoth deepwater projects profitable amid modest oil prices.

  • The short version: They're shaking up corporate culture; cutting costs like the number of support ships; using horizontal drilling and water flooding techniques pioneered in the onshore fracking boom.

The bullish case for oil sands

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Don't count out the oil sands! Yes several oil giants, most recently Shell, have announced that they're shedding assets there.

But the latest Wood Mackenzie podcast explains that the consolidation of mining into fewer and mostly Canadian corporate hands will enable development to proceed, and the remaining players like Suncor will be able to bring down extraction costs with economies of scale and pressure on suppliers.

  • And that brings us to this new Wall Street Journal piece, which like the podcast gets into how existing oil sands projects (not new ones with huge upfront costs) can present good returns even at modest prices.
  • "For investors truly bullish on crude in the long run, the best place to invest may be the unpopular fields north of the border," WSJ notes.

Senate panel pushes nuclear bill forward

On Wednesday the Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on legislation that's designed to make the Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process friendlier to getting the next generation of nuclear reactor technologies approved and built.

Why it matters: Despite once-high industry hopes, there has been fairly little new reactor construction in the U.S. There's bipartisan backing for the measure—it unites pro-nuclear but climate denying Sen. James Inhofe and climate hawk Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, who sees nuclear power as a tool against global warming.

Eyes peeled

Here's a couple of interesting items on the Capitol Hill schedule today …

Senate Judiciary Committee members will start grilling Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in earnest.

Democrats are wary of Gorsuch's disdain for Chevron deference, or the idea that agencies should have ample running room to craft policies when underlying laws are ambiguous.

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein offered a preview during Monday's opening statement, emphasizing that Congress relies on agency experts to carry out statutes. "These are what ensure the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act protect our environment from pollution," she said.

A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee panel will explore "deficiencies" in the Interior Department's oversight of offshore drilling, almost seven years after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

  • The Government Accountability Office is slated to issue more findings and a top analyst is testifying.

One cool thing

Via the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, this gallery of award-winning nature and wildlife photography is something to behold.

That's all for now, but as always, look for more in the Axios stream and your feedback is welcome at ben@axios.com

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U.S. backs off global oil and mining transparency standard

Darko Bandic / AP

The Trump administration is dialing back the U.S. commitment to an international initiative that sets transparency standards for oil and mining revenues.

Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative spokeswoman Christina Berger said today the U.S. "commitment to implementation appears to be withdrawn," but also said the group has not heard directly from the U.S. government. The Interior Department, which has led work to comply with the voluntary EITI standards, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Why it matters: Transparency advocates say backing away will keep U.S. tax information out of public view, and hurt momentum for transparency and anti-corruption efforts globally. This is the second move on transparency rules by the Trump administration — he's already signed legislation nullifying SEC rules requiring oil and mining companies to disclose payments to foreign governments.

Update: Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said no decision has been made about whether to apply for EITI certification, and noted that the formal validation process for the U.S. isn't slated to begin until April of 2018. She said Interior "remains committed" to transparency and good governance in extractive industries.

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Why Trump's coal comeback pledge is such a longshot

Steve Helber / AP

Two stories caught my eye that help explain why Trump's pledge to revive the U.S. coal industry is such a heavy lift. A lengthy piece that fronts Sunday's Washington Post biz section says some good signs—higher prices, a boost in deliveries—probably won't change underlying trends. Why?

  • The big open-pit mines where the industry is focused in Wyoming and elsewhere need fewer workers than Appalachian mines.
  • Cheap gas, cheap gas, cheap gas from the fracking boom.
  • Softer than expected Asian demand.
  • Trump has shown "no signs" of backing big federal cash for climate-friendly coal tech.
The Financial Times, meanwhile, quotes the International Energy Agency chief predicting that Trump's plans to ease infrastructure permitting could boost U.S. gas exports further, creating a drag on Chinese and Indian coal needs.
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Generate

Good morning and welcome to week three of Generate! That's about how long we've been waiting for Donald Trump's planned executive order against Obama-era climate policies to materialize. Is this the day (or the week)? We'll see. Here's what else is going on . . .

Bill Gates meets Donald Trump today

The billionaire tech pioneer and philanthropist will be at the White House this morning. The agenda is kind of vague but we'll be watching for signs that it touches on a longtime Gates obsession: robust R&D into breakthrough clean energy tech.

Why it matters: The meeting arrives just days after Trump proposed a budget that would deeply slash Energy Department spending and end support outright for DOE's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Gates, via his foundation, has bashed the budget plan for several reasons.

  • Flashback: Gates told Axios's Ina Fried very recently that he's going to push the Trump administration and Congress to maintain U.S. leadership in clean energy.

Capitol Hill lightning round

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Here's a few things I've got my eyes peeled for this week in Congress …

  • Oil-and-gas climate rules: The Senate might take up a House-passed plan to kill Obama-era Interior Dept. regs to cut methane emissions from oil-and-gas operations on federal lands. GOP Sen. Rob Portman is a swing vote that people are watching.
  • Neil Gorsuch: Trump's SCOTUS pick faces the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Will he get a climate question? The high court has already given EPA power to regulate carbon emissions, but new EPA chief Scott Pruitt has been questioning how much Clean Air Act leeway EPA has over power plants.
  • Offshore drilling: Hard to believe that BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is almost seven years old. A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee gathers Tuesday to explore "deficiencies" at the Interior Department's offshore drilling safety branch that was totally overhauled after the spill.

What the executive order (probably) won’t say

Let's get the standing reminder done: Very soon, the White House is slated to issue an executive order or memo that will seek to scuttle big pieces of Obama's climate policy. Some of this can happen fast, like lifting the public lands coal leasing freeze, but unwinding EPA power plant rules will take a long time.

Ok! My sources suggest the executive order will not wage a frontal assault on climate change science. Despite Trump's well-known skepticism and EPA chief Scott Pruitt's break with the scientific consensus on carbon, they don't expect the order to wade into the topic.

  • Instead, look for any throat-clearing policy rationale (many executive orders have that kind of chatter upfront) to focus on economics and regulatory burdens, and maybe make the case that Obama's EPA took liberties with the Clean Air Act.
Why it matters: If there's indeed nothing questioning mainstream climate science, it suggests the administration doesn't want that topic front and center in its battles over climate and enegy policy.

Coal’s comeback is a longshot

Two stories caught my eye that help explain why Trump's pledge to revive the U.S. coal industry is such a heavy lift. A lengthy piece that fronts Sunday's Washington Post biz section says some good signs—higher prices, a boost in deliveries—probably won't change underlying trends. Why?

  • The big open-pit mines where the industry is focused in Wyoming and elsewhere need fewer workers than Appalachian mines.
  • Cheap gas, cheap gas, cheap gas from the fracking bom.
  • Softer than expected Asian demand.
  • Trump has shown "no signs" of backing big federal cash for climate-friendly coal tech.
The Financial Times, meanwhile, quotes the International Energy Agency chief predicting that Trump's plans to ease infrastructure permitting could boost U.S. gas exports further, creating a drag on Chinese and Indian coal needs.

Trump’s multi-dimensional auto gambit

An interesting scoop from our own Jonathan Swan signals that Trump's interest in auto markets and policy goes beyond his high-profile announcement that he's probably rolling back tough Obama-era efficiency rules.

  • He reports: "Senior White House officials are quietly preparing to confront China over what they consider unfair practices in the auto industry. It's a move that could profoundly disrupt relations between the superpowers."
Check out the whole story here.

Palace intrigue at EPA

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is "bristling" at the presence of one of Donald Trump's political appointees at the agency, the Washington Post reports. Trump's man at EPA is Trump campaign official and former Washington State senator Don Benton.

Scene and heard: the Post says Benton chatters so much during policy meetings that he's no longer invited to many of them. "One of the officials described the situation as akin to an episode of the HBO comedy series 'Veep.'"

One cool thing

National Geographic's photo of the day this morning is cool but kind of vertigo-inducing.

Thanks for reading! Getting all our newsletters in your inbox each day is easy and free. You can sign up here. And needless to say your tips and feedback are always welcome at ben@axios.com. Look for more energy and climate change coverage each day in the Axios stream, and we'll you see again early tomorrow morning.