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Good morning. Big news. The weekly Axios Science newsletter launches later today and it's really good. Sign up here and it'll arrive in your inbox later today and every Thursday going forward. Let's dive in . . .

One big idea: blockchain as a grid shield

Giphy

The Rocky Mountain Institute uses the recent ransomware attacks as a jumping off point for an interesting piece about how blockchain technology can help protect power grids.

The new blog post says the decentralized digital transaction technology is "inherently robust" against cyber threats for several reasons, such as the difficulty of changing data after it's written and decentralized data storage.

Why it matters now: The energy think tank notes that with the huge expansion of energy-using, internet-connected devices expected over the next decade, the grid is about to get way, way more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Elsewhere, RMI notes that blockchain can help protect wholesale power markets against cyber intrusions aimed at injecting false data and manipulating prices.

On tap today: Interior and EPA in focus

In the hot seat: David Bernhardt, a lobbyist that President Donald Trump has nominated for the number two slot at Interior, will appear before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

A Democratic aide tells Axios to expect skeptical questioning about how or if he can prevent conflicts of interest, given his past work with fossil fuel and mining companies.

  • Also in the crosshairs: Bernhardt's time as a high-level official at Interior during the George W. Bush administration, when the agency was rocked by several scandals, could be a focus of Democratic questions too.

More about DOE’s budget shock

Foreign Affairs has a new piece on the international ramifications if the White House succeeds in deeply cutting Energy Department research, development, and demonstration programs for clean energy tech.

Flashback: Yesterday my colleague Amy Harder had two scoops (here and here) about the White House plans.

The global stakes: The Foreign Affairs piece says these kinds of cuts would hurt the U.S. economically and diplomatically.

  • The U.S. could cede ground in the race to command emerging and future industries, like next-wave batteries and nuclear reactors.
  • The U.S. government currently supports international partnerships on clean energy development, and ending it would would cost the U.S. diplomatic leverage with nations like Japan, China, and India.

Go deeper: The piece made the point that the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center is a bright spot in the difficult relationship with China at a time when cooperation over North Korea is important.

The essay also notes the U.S. accrued goodwill when it spearheaded a 2015 multi-country pledge to double clean energy R&D over five years.

Perspectives on geoengineering

Rebecca Zisser / Axios

My colleague Alison Snyder, who leads our expanding science coverage at Axios, has rounded up important perspectives on geoengineering. Alison asks: What do we need to know before someone pushes start on a large-scale geoengineering attempt? And what Earth-altering experiment should we try first?

Five leading researchers answered those questions and offered their take on the risks, as well as the thorny ethical and legal issues that come with unleashing a technology that could span countries, cultures, and generations. Check out the links below...

On my screen: OPEC, fracking, and climate

Crude oil: The Wall Street Journal notes that for all the obsession with OPEC and U.S. shale, other players are making their presence felt in the markets ahead of the crucial OPEC meeting next week.

  • "Rising output from Canada and Brazil, along with smaller gains in the U.K. and Norway, represents an under-the-radar concern for some oil traders ahead of next week's meeting between members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries," the WSJ reports.

More OPEC: The Financial Times has an informative table-setter about the OPEC meeting as the cartel seeks to avoid another price collapse.

  • "It is indicative of their reduced ambition that few members are prepared to talk of a significant recovery in the market, even as the cartel moves to extend its output cuts for another six to nine months," FT reports.

Fracking: Bloomberg reports that shale oil drillers are "struggling to find enough fracking crews after thousands of workers were dismissed during the crude rout."

More fracking: The Houston Chronicle reports on the changing of the guard at oilfield services giant Halliburton.

Climate: Reuters reports that the European Union has agreed to provide $891 million to help 79 African, Pacific, and Caribbean countries implement the Paris agreement to combat climate change.

From Amy’s notebook: Trump CEO advisor goes solar

Campbell Soup, whose CEO Denise Morrison has advised President Trump on regulatory issues, announced Wednesday it was putting solar panels on its headquarters in New Jersey.

Why it matters: The move shows how businesses of all kinds — not just those owned by Elon Musk, for instance — are increasingly investing in renewables regardless of moves by the Trump administration that are calling to slash Energy Department funding for renewables by nearly 70%.

The news coincided with a Washington visit by Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corp., whose technology Campbell is using for its project. Discussing the Campbell move with Axios, Werner noted a Pew Research study from last year that found 75% or more of Republicans back solar power.

Reality check: GOP backing for solar power helped compel Congress to pass legislation extending key tax credits for solar (and wind) energy in 2015, but Energy Department priorities will likely be driven less by polls and more by administrative priorities, which don't include boosting solar power at all, let alone to the scale former President Obama did.

Lobbying notes

Filings that just surfaced in the Lobbying Disclosure Act database show that...

Science: The recently formed pro-science advocacy and candidate recruitment group 314 Action — which advocates for climate science among other areas — has brought on Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies.

Ethanol wars: The Louisiana Oil Marketers & Convenience Store Association has also tapped Cozen O'Connor.

The pro-ethanol trade group Fuels America has brought on Sextons Creek. William Smith, Jr., who was VP Mike Pence's chief of staff when he was in Congress, will be their lobbyist, the filing shows.

Transmission: The Ingram Group LLC, acting on behalf of transmission developer Clean Line Energy, has hired Douglass E. Bobbitt.

Thanks for reading everyone! Confidential tips and feedback are always welcome at ben@axios.com. See you right back here tomorrow.

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How Medicaid funding would change under the Senate health bill

The Senate health care bill would substantially reduce federal funding for all Medicaid beneficiary groups over the next two decades compared to current law, according to an analysis by Avalere, a health care consulting firm.

Why this matters: The funding cuts could encourage states to cut benefits for enrollees, payments to providers or eligibility for the program. It also saves the federal government $772 billion over 10 years, and likely much more over 20 years.


Data: Avalere Health analysis; Note: Adult age cutoff defined by state, ranging from 19-21. Seniors are 65+; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

What the bill does:

  • Phases out enhanced federal funding for the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion.
  • Caps the amount of federal funding per Medicaid enrollee. This cap grows with medical inflation beginning in 2020, but in 2025 the growth rate slows to inflation, which is tighter and causes most of the steep reductions.
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Axios Review: New Eero delivers even better Wi-Fi, albeit at a price

Eero

When it debuted a couple years ago, Eero was the first company to aggressively promote the concept of placing multiple networking boxes around the home for better Wi-Fi. Now, as Eero's second-generation product hits the market, the company is far from alone, facing competition from other startups as well as traditional networking companies like Belkin and Netgear.

Who it's good for: Anyone that has pockets of slow wi-fi in their home and doesn't already have a multi-unit system

Who it's not good for: Those whose homes are reasonably well covered, those who already have a mesh network or are particularly cost conscious, since others offer a more affordable alternative.

Our take: I eagerly bought the first Eero system due to poor in-home Wi-Fi coverage in an old San Francisco building. While it improved a bad situation, the Wi-Fi in the back of the house (where our bedroom is located) still left much to be desired. Eero's original system consisted of three identical units, while the new standard $399 system is one main system and two smaller "Eero Beacon" devices.

In testing the second-generation system, I initially tried a mix of three new devices and one older Eero and it actually made things slower. But when I went with just the new Eero-and-two-beacon system I found it delivered a significant speed bump, as measured by the Speedtest app, on the order of about 25% faster downloads.

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Waymo: Uber knew about the stolen files

Jeff Chiu / AP

Waymo is pushing back on Uber's defense, arguing in new court documents that the ride-hailing company not only knew that a former Waymo employee had downloaded proprietary files, but that it also set up legal mechanisms to cover that up.

Cover up: Waymo argues that Uber struck a deal with Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee whose startup it was acquiring, that he submit to a due diligence investigation in exchange for indemnification. Uber either knew or suspected that he had stolen files in his possession and set up a legal agreement to protect both parties, says Waymo.

More: Waymo also points to other suspicious events, such as Levandowski's downloading of proprietary files onto a personal device on two occasions, and both on days that he was meeting with Uber executives. It also says it can't find text messages from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to Levandowski, suggesting they may have been deleted. Uber has not produced all text messages between Levandowski and every witness yet.

Read here Uber's legal defense, also filed on Wednesday.

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Senior official contradicts Trump's South Korea stance

Evan Vucci / AP

On the eve of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's meeting with President Trump, a senior White House official told reporters in a background briefing that South Korea is not, in fact, a "laggard" on military burden sharing:

"South Korea in many respects is the model ally because they are spending somewhere in the order of 2.7% of their GDP on their defense. Burden sharing is always going to be part of the conversation with our allies. President Trump has made that clear, but we shouldn't view South Korea as somehow laggard on that front."

Why this matters: The senior White House official is directly contradicting Trump's long-running public statements — where he has frequently condemned South Korea for being a freeloader. This could preface a strategic shift for the administration. During the presidential campaign, Trump told CNN's Wolf Blitzer: "South Korea is a money machine but they pay us peanuts...South Korea should pay us very substantially for protecting them."

  • During Wednesday's briefing — a prelude to Moon's visit to the White House on Thursday, where he'll have cocktails and dinner with Trump — the senior White House official praised South Korea for paying an "enormous amount of money to help host U.S. troops in their country including through things like...the new base, south of Seoul, which 92% of that cost was shouldered by South Korea."

Since taking office, Trump has used far more bellicose rhetoric than his senior advisors — with the prominent exception of Steve Bannon — when it comes to South Korea:

  • Trump upset the South Koreans when he told Reuters in April he expected them to pay for the "billion dollar system," THAAD, to defend against North Korean missiles. Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, had to clean-up Trump's statement, assuring the South Koreans that "until any re-negotiation that the deal is in place, we will adhere to our word" to pay for the missile defense system.
  • Trump also told Reuters the Korean trade agreement was "a horrible deal, and we are going to renegotiate that deal or terminate it." In Wednesday's briefing the senior White House official used more diplomatic language — saying "I think they will have a friendly and frank discussion about the trade relationship."
  • The official did, however, specify the areas of tension on trade: "He will be, I think, forthright in terms of talking about things like U.S. autos and the fact that there are still some barriers to U.S. auto sales in Korea, certainly the enormous amount of steel that sometimes ends up surplus, Chinese steel that comes to the United States via South Korea."
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Mattis, Haley claim White House warning to Syria prevented attack

Jacquelyn Martin and Andrew Harnik / AP

Both Defense Secretary Mattis and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley are claiming President Trump's warning to Syria over chemical weapons prevented an attack.

Mattis, while on his way to a NATO meeting in Brussels Wednesday told reporters: "It appears that they took the warning seriously." When asked repeatedly how he knows Syria heeded the warning he said simply, "they didn't do it," three times.

Haley on Capitol Hill Wednesday, via The Guardian: "Due to the president's actions, we did not see an incident…I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women and children."

Our thought bubble: Reports on what prompted the White House statement Monday night that Syria was preparing for a possible chemical attack have been vague and at times conflicting. With so little known about the would-be attack, it's hard to assess whether the warning changed the regime's calculus.

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The story behind Trump's Medicaid argument

President Trump's rallying behind the Senate GOP's health care bill continued this afternoon as he tweeted that the bill actually increases Medicaid spending rather than cutting it:

Our thought bubble: The Senate bill would cut Medicaid spending by $772 billion over a decade from its levels under the Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans argue, as the the New York Times summed up yesterday, that health care spending under the ACA is dangerously out of control, so the Senate bill doesn't include "cuts," it simply increases Medicaid funding at a more reasonable rate.

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McMaster lays out North Korea strategy

Susan Walsh / AP

Trump's National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster laid out the way the U.S. is thinking about the North Korea problem Wednesday in three main points:

  1. "The North Korea problem is not a problem between North Korea and the United States. It's a problem between North Korea and China — and the world."
  2. A positive gain in the last few months has been "Chinese leadership's recognition that China does have a great deal of control over that situation mainly through the powers of the economic…relationship" with North Korea. This seems to diverge from Trump's stance that China has tried to exert influence but fallen short.
  3. "Denuclearization of the peninsula is the only appropriate and acceptable" solution.

Read more from Axios' Expert Voices on what the U.S. can do about North Korea, here.

On NATO: McMaster affirmed Trump is "absolutely committed to" the mutual defense protocol, known as Article Five.

On Afghanistan: McMaster said the Taliban is taking advantage of the disconnect between military action and political action in Afghanistan. He noted the previous approach of saying "let's talk to you about a political solution…but we're leaving" made little sense to him. "How does that work?"

On Russia: McMaster said the U.S. needs more tools to confront Russia's destabilizing behavior towards the U.S., including in cyberspace.

On budget: McMaster dodged a question about USAID and State Department budget cuts.

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New laptop inspections coming for U.S.-bound flights

Ted S. Warren / AP

Additional screening will soon be required before personal electronic devices (PEDs) larger than cell phones can be carried on to U.S.-bound flights, senior Department of Homeland Security officials announced Wednesday. The TSA and the State Department will also be involved in implementation.

The need for more security comes from the fact that terrorists continue to look at attacking commercial airlines as the "crown jewel," and are exploring new ways to conceal devices, DHS Secretary John Kelly said at the CNAS conference.

Why it matters: This move could have major commercial implications, but Kelly is pressing ahead because he places aviation in general, and the ability of terrorists to turn laptops into explosive devices in particular, at the top of his list of security concerns.

What to expect: As one senior DHS official put it, "if the PEDs [larger than a cellphone] are screened, they can fly. If they are not screened, they cannot fly." The officials would not discuss what the enhanced screenings will look like exactly, but added that DHS is calling for the use of next generation screening methods as well as K-9 assets. DHS is encouraging more airports to become pre-screening locations, which allows passengers to go through Customs and border security before boarding flights to the U.S., Kelly said.

If airline carriers choose to not implement these changes, the U.S. could suspend their flights to the U.S. and could not allow PEDs larger than cell phones on board at all. One DHS official said he believes every airport in the world would be able to implement these changes, however. The changes will affect 238 airports, 105 countries, and, on average, 2,000 flights per day.

Timeline: The DHS officials briefing reporters were vague about the implementation due to security reasons, noting the changes "could roll out this summer, absolutely." They ultimately claimed it was up to the airline carriers to get the changes implemented and that TSA and DHS officials stand ready to inspect the changes to approve the airlines' protocols.

The existing ban: The 10 airports in the Middle East that are already subject to a laptop ban can have those restrictions lifted if they comply with these new security measures. One DHS official clarified, "we're not rolling back those measures," but this gives those airports the opportunity to increase their security. (Those airports affected: Amman, Kuwait City, Cairo, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Casablanca, Doha, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi.)

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Trump's latest social media salvo against "fake news"

Alex Brandon / AP

President Trump has shared videos on his official Instagram account from Project Veritas, the controversial right-wing outlet known for its deceptively-edited videos, that purport to show CNN figures — including contributor Van Jones — dismissing the federal government's Russia investigation. Trump captioned the videos, "CNN is fake news."

Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday: "There's a video out there circulating right now — whether it's accurate or not, I don't know — but I would encourage everybody in this room, and frankly, everybody across the country to take a look at it."

Note of caution: Per the Washington Post, Project Veritas is known for utilizing practices considered unethical in mainstream journalism, including using false identities and deceptive editing. For example, one video features a CNN producer saying there is "no smoking gun" in the Russia investigation but fails to note that he produces health and medical stories for the network — and is based in Atlanta, away from the epicenters of CNN's politics coverage in Washington and New York.

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Senate Intel cuts a deal for the Comey memos

Andrew Harnik / AP

The Senate Intelligence Committee has reached an agreement to obtain the memos James Comey wrote after interactions with President Trump, chairman Richard Burr said Wednesday. Per Politico:

  • "I've got a commitment," Burr said when asked whether his panel would get access to the documents. Asked who gave him that commitment, the senator responded: "I'm not going to tell you."
  • Burr said he expected to obtain the memos sooner rather than later, saying, "it does us no good later."
  • Flashback: Comey testified before the committee about the contents of the memos, one of which details Trump's alleged pressure over the investigation into Michael Flynn, which House investigators have also sought without success.