Corporate America isn't backing Trump on climate - Axios
Featured Column / Harder Line

Corporate America isn't backing Trump on climate

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Corporate America is uniting on climate change.

Consumer brands and industrial giants have been supporting government action on climate change for years. In a shift that is changing the debate, the biggest and most important U.S. energy companies are now dropping their resistance to a global climate deal.

Why it matters: Broader corporate backing of global action on climate change is helping push President Trump away from his campaign promise to pull out of the climate deal, which was struck by nearly 200 nations in Paris two years ago to slow the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The consensus in corporate America is the broadest it's been in a decade when in 2007 an official coalition called the U.S. Climate Action Partnership was formed to push for legislation cutting carbon emissions. Though it dissolved a few years later when Congress didn't act, it included members ranging from ConocoPhillips to Caterpillar to utility Duke Energy. There's no official coalition this time, but the collection of companies is even more diverse.

To varying degrees, most major companies producing coal, natural gas and oil either explicitly back sticking with the 2015 climate deal struck in Paris, or they're opting not to lobby against it, a dramatic shift from just a few years ago. They're not necessarily cheering global efforts to address the issue, but the decision not to oppose it has the same effect as tacit backing.

The reasons corporate America is uniting on global climate policy are many and often depend on the products made and how global a company's operations are:

  • Consumer-facing companies like Starbucks and Pepsi, have long prioritized policies to cut carbon emissions because they don't sell products that directly contribute to the problem. They also have more direct interaction with consumers who like to buy from green-minded corporations.
  • Companies that generate electricity have said, for much of the past decade, that they're moving away from coal toward cleaner burning sources of power, including natural gas and renewables. The Edison Electric Institute, the trade association representing investor-owned utilities, held a reception last year honoring the Paris climate deal after its conclusion, even though it officially doesn't have a position on the deal.
  • Companies with huge global footprints, like General Electric and ExxonMobil, know that pulling out of one diplomatic deal can only weaken the U.S. standing on other geopolitical issues, which could hurt their operations around the world.
  • Publicly traded fossil-fuel companies are facing growing calls from their investors to address climate change, or at least to not fight such policies. This is a newer trend that's gained influence over the past couple of years.
  • Major oil companies, like ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, have increasingly invested in natural gas, which emits 50% less carbon than coal when burned. Companies with big natural gas portfolios will gain with climate policies that accelerate a shift already underway to replace coal with natural gas. ExxonMobil, which bought big natural-gas producer XTO Energy in 2010, sent a letter to the White House in March urging Trump to stay in the deal. That letter followed a tweet by the company's top lobbyist just hours after Trump won the election expressing support for the accord.

Big coal companies remain the most tepid about embracing global efforts on climate change. Nonetheless, U.S. executives know the continued use of coal around the world depends on two things, both which would benefit by staying in a global climate deal: government support for new technologies to burn coal more cleanly and continued U.S. exports of coal. Coal giants Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy have conveyed this to the White House, according to multiple people familiar with the conversations, and Cloud Peak's CEO, Colin Marshall, sent a letter to Trump about it. Reuters and Politico have had good reports on this development recently.

"It seems absolutely irrational to not at least develop an insurance policy against climate change," Marshall said in an interview with Axios last week. "What if the planet is warming up twice as much as we thought?"

  • The other side: One of the most influential and outspoken outliers is coal producer Murray Energy, whose CEO, Bob Murray, is close to the president. One thing helps explains that company's resistance to the Paris deal: it's privately held, and so it doesn't have to answer to shareholders clamoring for more acknowledgement of climate policy.
To be sure: Trump's EPA is working to get rid of the Obama administration's main commitment to the Paris deal: carbon rules for power plants. Staying in the Paris deal but gutting the main U.S. pledge doesn't leave much meat on the bones, making it easier for more corporations to back it.
What's next: White House officials have said they will make a decision by an end of May meeting of the G-7 nations in Italy whether to stay in the Paris deal.

(Harder Line will be a weekly column by Amy Harder where she offers up informed and unbiased analysis of the energy industry and environmental regulation, along with scoops, trends and exclusive interviews. Look for the column weekly at www.axios.com, and highlighted in the Generate newsletter which you can sign up for here.)

Featured

Smart cities are a security nightmare

There could be an estimated 2.3 billion connected devices in smart cities this year — a 42% increase since 2016. But the ubiquity of these devices is becoming a hacker's paradise, and smart cities could quickly become a security nightmare. T

What they are: Smart cities "rely on interconnected devices to streamline and improve city services based on rich, real-time data," according to Harvard Business Review. That could be everything from sensors that reduce the energy used in street lights to devices that regulate the distribution of water.

The goal is to improve a city's livability and to utilize smart technologies to streamline its infrastructure.

The problem: These devices rely on real-time, accurate information, so if a hacker gets hold of their network, the entire city's programming could be thrown off. This has already happened: Hackers set off 158 emergency sirens throughout Dallas on April 8.

Smart cities:

  • South Korea, one city installed smart sensors to regulate water and energy, slashing building operating costs by 30 percent.
  • Barcelona uses smart water meter technology, which saved the city $58 annually.
One systemic flaw: "Cities currently using a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, are particularly susceptible to frequent hacks due to poor security protocols. Though SCADA systems control large-scale processes and unify decentralized facilities, they lack cryptographic security and authentication factors. If a hacker targets a city's SCADA system, they could threaten public health and safety, and shut down multiple city services from a single entry point."
What's next: There's an estimated 50 billion connected devices by 2020. Smart cities will need to secure their critical, digital infrastructure from hackers seeking to wreak havoc on the area.
Featured

Silicon Valley hasn't forgotten about Sci-Fi

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Back in 2011, investor Peter Thiel's VC firm, Founders Fund, published on its website: "We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters."

We may have gotten 140 characters first thanks to Twitter, but flying cars are certainly still in Silicon Valley's plans.

Why it matters: Silicon Valley is often criticized for pouring capital into startups building luxury products for the 1% or yet another photo-sharing app, but it's also going after much more ambitious goals. Often, these ambitions seem straight out of a science fiction novel, and yet some of the biggest tech companies are heavily pursuing those projects.

  1. Flying cars: Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircrafts—or "flying cars"—are nothing new to the imagination of tech enthusiasts. But in recent years, a growing number of companies, including Uber and the Larry Page-backed Kitty Hawk, have started to seriously work on making it a viable transportation option someday.
  2. "Curing" death/Curing all human diseases: It may sound like science fiction, but significantly extending human life is a very real goal in which companies like Alphabet are investing. Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan announced over a year ago that they'll be putting their fortunes toward curing all human diseases.
  3. Typing with your brain/hearing with your skin: Not content with just making social media apps, Facebook has taken up developing technology that would let people type using their brain waves and "hear" through their skin. In a way, it's not hard to see how these technologies would fit with the company's mission to help people connect with each other.
  4. Settling on Mars: For decades, rocket ships were the domain of governments, and were used for scientific exploration. But today, companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic not only want to make space travel a commercial option, but some have set their sights on going to Mars.
  5. Meatless meat/food: Some startups like Hampton Creek are replacing eggs with plants, while others like Impossible Foods want to feed you meatless burgers. With changes in populations, agriculture, and foods, it's no surprise that a slew of companies are looking to provide non-animal alternatives.
  6. Wireless charging: Scientists have been skeptical as to whether startups like uBeam can make charging devices wirelessly a reality, but top Silicon Valley names like Marc Andreessen are convinced. Earlier this year, uBeam founder Meredith Perry showed off her company's tech at a conference in Los Angeles, though she's yet to provide an in-depth demo to the press.
Featured

Trump drums up accomplishments in campaign-style speech

Patrick Semansky / AP

On his 100th day in office, President Trump spoke for an hour in Harrisburg, Pa., outlining what he's done in office, while rehashing campaign talking points.

Is there any place like a Trump rally?

Accomplishments cited: Foreign relationships (Germany, Japan, China, and UK mentioned), Gorsuch appointment, TPP withdrawal, Buy American, Hire American executive order, bullish stock market, green light for Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline construction, scrapping regulations, reduction in illegal border crossings, 28 bills passed, and return of Egyptian-American prisoner Aya Hijazi.

Explaining decision not to label China a currency manipulator: "China is helping us possibly or probably with the North Korean situation, OK? Which is a great thing."

Campaign déjà vu:

  • "We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country."
  • "We will repeal and replace Obamacare, you watch."
  • "We will renegotiate NAFTA."
  • "The previous administration gave us a mess."
Featured

Trump: Don't compare my health care plan to Obama's

Carolyn Kaster / AP

President Trump suggested tonight that it's not fair to compare the Republican health care plan to the Affordable Care Act, because the law is "dying, dying, dying" and won't be around anyway. "They always like to compare — well, what about [Obamacare]? Obamacare's dead," Trump said at a rally in Harrisburg, PA. "It's gone ... The insurance companies are fleeing."

Between the lines: His comments suggested that he might try to use the law's problems — including the steep premium hikes last year — to dismiss the comparisons people are making to the GOP replacement plan, which aren't flattering. The biggest criticisms: it would cover 24 million fewer people than the ACA, and under some of the latest changes, it might not give the same protections to people with pre-existing conditions.

Pass the "damn thing": "I'll be so angry at Congressman [Mike] Kelly and Congressman [Tom] Marino and all of our congressmen in this room if we don't get that damn thing passed quickly." (He later gave them a "just kidding" wave: "They'll get it done.")

Featured

Samantha Bee imagines the U.S. with Hillary as President

TBS

This afternoon TBS's Samantha Bee hosted her special edition of Full Frontal — Not the White House Correspondents' Dinner. She roasted CNN and Fox News as well as presidents Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush — played by Will Ferrell who Bush recently praised for his SNL impressions on him. But of course, Donald Trump got the most of the roasts.

The last act imagined a world in which Hillary Clinton was president.

The agenda: Opening the show, in a pre-recorded clip of Allison Janney playing the White House Press Secretary taking questions from internet trolls, Janney is asked if Ms. Bee was trying to undermine President Trump and the press with her event. Janney replies, "No, she's trying to undermine just one one of those." To which the crowd erupted in cheers and laughter.

The kicker: The event took place in D.C. on the same day as the official White House Correspondents Dinner, which Donald Trump and his White House refused to attend.

The puzzler: Barack Obama was notably left out of the roasts.

Featured

Ohio lawmakers might freeze Medicaid enrollment, defying Kasich

Ron Schwane / AP

Ohio's John Kasich is one of the most famous Republican governors to expand Medicaid, but GOP lawmakers weren't thrilled — and now they're looking at freezing Medicaid enrollment so they can pass the state budget, the Associated Press reports. "With Medicaid being such a huge issue in our budget, our answer can't be to put more people on," said state Rep. Larry Householder, who supports the freeze.

The takeaway: Even GOP governors who went along with the expansion under the Affordable Care Act can't always maintain support within their party. If the freeze passes, it will put pressure on Kasich to show how deeply committed he is to the expansion.

Featured

Paul Manafort's foreign agent saga continues

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Mercury LLC, a Washington-based lobbying firm under Paul Manafort's direction, registered as a foreign agent yesterday, per the AP. They lobbied for and set up meetings with Ukrainian political officials in an attempt to influence the campaign based on their pro-Russian interests, specifically for former Russian President Yanukovych.

Flashback: Earlier this month, Manafort was reportedly registering as a foreign agent, his spokesman James Maloni told AP. But yesterday, Maloni said that is no longer happening, despite what he said before.

Manafort's role: The registration revealed that he was involved with the firm's lobbying work, attending meetings and offering consulting. One meeting (of the four he attended) was with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California — in 2014, after the meeting, he voted against an aid package intended for the government that replaced Yanukovych's, per AP. Furthermore, Manafort and Rick Gates, another Trump campaign aide, directed certain tasks for Mercury, making their lobbyists set up meetings with various Ukrainian senators and political officials.

What's next: Manafort still needs to formally disclose his involvement with foreign, pro-Russian lobbying firms, so he's considering other options after receiving guidance from the federal authorities about that.

Featured Facts Matter

How the WHCD became a celebrity affair

Evan Agostini / AP

The issue:

The 2017 White House Correspondents' Association dinner will go on, despite President Trump, all White House staff, and many celebrities declining the invitation. It has evolved significantly over the years, so how did it originate?

The facts:

The WHCA was founded in 1914 after there were (false) rumors that President Woodrow Wilson was selecting a small group of reporters to attend his press briefings. The association held their first dinner in 1920, and four years later, President Calvin Coolidge attended.

The 1987 dinner had the first "celebrity" guest, according to the Washington Post, when Baltimore Sun correspondent Michael Kelly invited the beautiful administrative assistant Fawn Hall, who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. This inspired a trend of inviting the most "newsworthy" or intriguing person whom reporters would want to talk about, making the dinner a Hollywood affair.

Why it matters:

Skeptics have said the event — where reporters party with government and are made celebrity-like — isn't journalistically kosher. For better or worse, it's become a tradition, which Trump has now broken... for this year, at least.

Featured

Fox in a box

Richard Drew / AP

The profitable, influential, seemingly impregnable Fox News is suddenly vulnerable.

In a massive disruption for right-wing media, Fox talent is on the market, the purge of the old-boy clique may continue, and there's huge internal paranoia about further lawsuits and revelations.

On top of that, there are episodic pushes from the next generation of Murdoch leadership for changes in culture and personality.

So at a time when all of cable is vulnerable as viewer habits change, Fox is caught between the America-first instincts of its base viewers, and the globalist impulses for Rupert Murdoch's sons.

A woman to run Fox News? The Hollywood Reporter reports that James and Lachlan Murdoch have quietly put out feelers for a new head of Fox News to replace Bill Shine, the Roger Ailes consigliere.

"[T]he preference ... is that the new leader be female."

And competitors are moving to take advantage:

  • Mediaite reports that "an alternative conservative network is being actively discussed amongst conservative fat cats": "[S]erious discussions are underway to create an alternative conservative cable network on the belief that the Fox News Network is moving too far to the left. ... The potential aim? Putting 'the old band' back together."
  • "Sinclair Broadcasting [home of Sharyl Attkisson] expands its footprint," by Axios' Shannon Vavra and Sara Fischer: "[N]ew hires and acquisitions around the U.S. come at an optimal time to snatch up conservative audiences; TheBlaze and Fox News just let go of their star anchors, Tomi Lahren and Bill O'Reilly."

Why it matters: Reinvigorated conservative media could help Trump as he heads toward midterms and a reelection race, with outlets scrambling to lock in Trump Nation with boosterish coverage.

Featured

Trump's bizarre obsession with the election map

Lee Jin-man / AP

President Trump wanted to celebrate his 100th day in office with an image of the 2016 electoral map displayed on the front page of the Washington Post. "He encouraged me to take it home to my colleagues at the Washington Post and try to run it on the front page of our newspaper," said WaPo's Washington Correspondent Philip Rucker during a MSNBC interview Friday.

Why it matters: It has been five months since the election and 100 days since Trump was sworn in as president, yet he continues to have a bizarre, never-ending obsession with how many electoral votes he received — with copies of the electoral map ready to present to anyone who will listen.

Trump in 2012: "The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy." And then in 2016:

The Electoral College is actually genius.
-Trump

Understanding the origin of his obsession

  • Exactly one week after the election, Trump tweeted: "The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!" (See GIF below for how that played out.)
  • This was seemingly the first time he recognized the EC as another intriguing layer to his hyper-competitive participation in the election — it became a challenge to overcome, something else to win.
  • "I did what was almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College!" He then considered his feat an even greater win, thus strengthening his obsession.
  • Big league accomplishment: "Campaigning to win the Electoral College is much more difficult & sophisticated than the popular vote. Hillary focused on the wrong states!"

Reddit/Giphy

One-track mind

For Trump, there's never a wrong time to cite his electoral college victory:

  • When asked about the rise of anti-Semitism during a February presser with Israeli PM: "Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory we had. 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220."
  • During a joint presser with Canadian PM Trudeau, he was asked about deporting Syrian refugees and said, "That's what I said I would do. I'm just doing what I said I would do, and we won by a very, very large electoral college vote."
  • In the middle of discussing Chinese President Xi Jinping with three Reuters reporters, Trump handed them three copies of the election map he had printed out that were sitting atop his desk in the Oval Office. "Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers. It's pretty good, right? The red is obviously us."
  • He gave a speech to the NRA yesterday, the first POTUS to do so since Raegan, and spent the first portion of it talking about his electoral college victory. He listed the states he won, touted his 306 (actually 304) EC votes. "Big sports fans said [the election] was the single most exciting event they're ever seen."
  • 5 minutes into his speech at a Louisville rally in March, Trump called Nov. 8 "a beautiful day" adding "they weren't giving us a chance, saying, 'There is no way to 270.' ...And you remember for the Republicans, the Electoral College has been very, very hard to win."