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Big oil ramps up carbon tax support

My Axios colleague Amy Harder reports on the shifting plates of carbon tax advocacy:

Strange bedfellows: The Climate Leadership Council today announced its founding members, which include four of the world's biggest oil and natural gas producers, two environmental groups, and political leaders. The group plans to launch a unified push urging Congress to enact a carbon tax to address climate change.

Why it matters: The support of oil-and-gas majors — Exxon, Shell, Total, and BP — will be needed to get Republicans to back a policy that remains politically toxic. The coalition, which launched in February with the backing of conservative leaders from earlier GOP administrations, represents the most diverse set of interests pushing Washington on climate policy in a decade.

"We expect that when the moment is right, the companies will lend their lobbying weight to our plan," executive director Ted Halstead said.

Reality check: Big oil backing is a prerequisite, but it may not be enough with strong conservative opposition to a carbon tax from powerful groups like Americans for Tax Reform and Competitive Enterprise Institute. Plus, almost no elected Republicans back a tax.

More details:

  • Besides the major oil companies, its founding members include: General Motors, Schneider Electric, two NGOs, and influential policy and political leaders. Click here for the full list.
  • The groups states its rough action plan involves: a CO2 tax, returning the payments to the public via carbon dividend payments, rolling back emissions regulations that are "no longer necessary," and, trade measures known as border carbon adjustments.
  • A Washington Post op-ed says: "The carbon dividend approach is best for the environment."

Click here for Amy's story.

The battle over deep decarbonization


Let's spend a little more time with the idea that creating a carbon-free power system with renewables alone isn't practically or economically feasible, as we discussed yesterday in a story about a new paper published by a suite of prominent energy researchers.

  • ICYMI: The study argues that deep decarbonization likely requires technology options that will include nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture.
  • It strongly rebuts — and criticizes — claims by Stanford's Mark Jacobson that a renewables-only system is affordable by mid-century.

Policy impact: This piece in MIT Technology Review explores how the Jacobson-led analyses have become a rallying point for some climate activists — and why that may be a problem.

What they're saying: The University of California's David Victor, a co-author of the paper, tells MIT Technology that he fears "wildly unrealistic expectations" and the "seeds of backlash" as advocates and even some lawmakers rely on Jacobson's work.

  • Jacobson, meanwhile, is bashing the new paper with some powerful language, calling it "intentionally scientifically fraudulent" on Twitter.

Go deeper: Chris Nelder's latest Energy Transition Show podcast that dropped yesterday explores the controversy with Christopher Clack, an author of the new study.

In the tanks: Swaying the DOE budget fight

Third Way

Here's some food for thought as Energy secretary Rick Perry testifies about the White House budget plan at several hearings starting today.

No substitute: The centrist think tank Third Way has a new post explaining why the private sector wouldn't replace President Trump's proposed pullback in funding for innovative energy tech.

  • "Very few private sector investors have the risk appetite or capacity to invest in a promising but unproven technology with high upfront costs and no immediate revenues," writes senior fellow Fahad Siddiqui. That's especially true when there are bigger and faster returns available in other sectors, notably IT, where startups pull in vastly more VC money.

Existing energy companies, meanwhile, devote a pretty small share of their own money to R&D...

  • "[F]rankly because the end customer for an energy product can't tell whether the electrons flowing to their TV or the fuel molecules in their tank were produced in some innovative way," Siddiqui says. Check out the chart above.

It's the economy: The American Energy Innovation Council — a group of CEOs (plus Bill Gates) that works through the centrist Bipartisan Policy Center — is out with a detailed report today making the economic case for robust federal support for energy innovation programs.

AEIC recommendations include: Investing $16 billion per year in advanced energy innovation; funding the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy at $1 billion per year; and, creating a federal "New Energy Challenge Program."

Programming note: I'll be moderating a panel this afternoon at their event on Capitol Hill that features keynote remarks by GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, who heads the Appropriations subcommittee on energy.

Listening notes

Big oil: Wood Mackenzie's latest podcast explores Exxon's big announcement that it's moving ahead with production in the massive Liza field off Guyana's coast

  • "This goes to show that projects with compelling economics will still move forward, even in the current environment," says Wood Mackenzie's Tom Ellacott. He notes that the breakeven costs for the project "rank alongside some of the best tight oil plays."
  • Really big: While Exxon's phase one plan calls for production of about 120,000 barrels per day, the company also announced good results from a well that could eventually drive production in the field much higher.
  • "We think that this could drive gross production up to 330,000 barrels per day by the mid 2020s," Ellacott said.
Technology: S&P Global Platts latest Brussels to Beijing podcast explores how big European utilities are beginning to use blockchain technology for trading and why it's "completely new territory" for regulators.

Quoteable: The latest episode of the Columbia Energy Exchange has a wide-ranging conversation with Iain Conn, CEO of British energy giant Centrica.

Sizing up OPEC's positioning, Conn notes that the cartel's moves for market share are driven by a realization that "we are in the foothills of the endgame for oil."

Generate readers: I'm looking for recommendations on energy- and climate-themed podcasts. Please drop me a line at and tell me what you like.

On my screen: huge gas deal, ‘fracklog,’ and a lonely appliance

Energy Information Administration

Oil: Bloomberg looks at the "fracklog" that could put further downward pressure on crude prices. "There were 5,946 drilled-but-uncompleted wells in the nation's oilfields at the end of May, the most in at least three years," they report, citing Energy Information Administration estimates.

Appliances: The EIA has published a look at Americans' use of dishwashers, which are less common in U.S. households than some other appliances (see above).

  • Why it matters: As EIA notes, dishwashers save water and energy compared to hand-washing. Lower-income households are more likely to have older and unused dishwashers, the report notes.

Natural gas: Forbes lays out the scope of EQT Corp.'s $6.7 billion deal to acquire Rice Energy, creating a Marcellus and Utica shale powerhouse.

  • "The deal vaults EQT past ExxonMobil and Chesapeake Energy to make it the nation's biggest natural gas producer with more than 3 billion cubic feet per day of production — responsible for about 5% of America's gas supply. Analyst Tim Rezvan at Mizuho called the deal 'empire building' for EQT," the Forbes piece notes.


Nikki Haley's "personal conversation" with Trump

President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at Trump's National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CNN today that she had a "personal conversation" with President Trump about how he handled the fallout from Charlottesville, per Politico.

"Well, I had a personal conversation with the president about Charlottesville, and I will leave it at that," Haley said on CNN. "But I will tell you that there is no hate in this country. I know the pain that hate can cause, and we need to isolate haters, and we need to make sure that they know there is no place for them."

On "Good Morning America," Haley brought up her conversation with Trump again, adding that her message was "taken very well." As for whether Trump believes he was in the wrong with his response? "The president clarified so that no one can question that he's opposed to bigotry and hate in this country," said Haley.


Chelsea Clinton wants Barron Trump to have a "private" life


Chelsea Clinton defended fellow first child, Barron Trump, on Twitter Monday after a Daily Caller reporter criticized the 11-year-old for his fashion choices.

The critique: "The youngest Trump doesn't have any responsibilities as the president's son, but the least he could do is dress the part when he steps out in public," entertainment reporter Ford Springer wrote in the Daily Caller.

Clinton's kickback: "It's high time the media & everyone leave Barron Trump alone & let him have the private childhood he deserves" she tweeted, linking to the story.

Why it matters: Clinton, who has otherwise been known to rail against Trump and his administration on social media, has come to Barron's defense on several occasions. Twice she's tweeted that Barron deserves the right and the privacy to be a kid.


Former Uber exec will be H&R Block's next CEO

Photo courtesy of H&R

Jeff Jones, the former Target CMO who spent just six months at Uber as its president of ride-sharing, will be H&R Block's next CEO, starting in October, the company said today.

  • Despite the enthusiasm around Jones' hiring last year, his departure was less positive. He left amid a flurry of controversies bubbling at Uber, including allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination within the company, and shortly after it announced plans to hire a COO.
  • Jones on his departure: "It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride sharing business."

Jones is not the only Uber executive to leave the company in the last six months. Others include its head of finance, head of its AI labs, its head of product and growth, its PR chief, and several employees from its self-driving car teams — including Marakby's boss, former head of Google Maps Brian McClendon.


Blue Apron faces shareholder lawsuits

Bree Fowler / AP

Blue Apron, the meal kits company that went public in June, has been hit with multiple shareholder lawsuits. They allege that the company misled investors about its business prior to going public, although only two suits have been formally filed, Axios is told. Now, these investors are angry and want their money back.

Tough crowd: Despite being a media darling while a private company, Blue Apron has had a tough time on the markets since going public — its stock price is now nearly half of what it was at the IPO. The company is also facing competition from Amazon, which recently debuted its own meal kits business, which investors claim Blue Apron knew and hid.

Amazon declined to comment on the lawsuits.


Uber adds new options for driver flexibility

Eric Risberg / AP

Over the last few months, Uber has been on a campaign to repair its relationship with drivers via changes to its policies and service. This time, it's trying to make their driving more flexible thanks to new options in their mobile app, such as setting a trip arrival time if they need to be done by a certain time to pick up their kids from school, and notifications before long trips, for example.

  • In the last six months, it's become clear to the company that it needs to take a friendlier approach in many aspects of its business, including its relationship with drivers.
  • Driver turnover is a big problem for ride-hailing companies, and Uber has to compete for them with rival Lyft, which has cultivated a driver-friendly image.
  • Uber published a paper on time and income flexibility for drivers to support its new policies.

Combating America's food waste problem

Food waste takes up 21% of America's landfill volume. The founders of Misfit Juicery say that ugly fruits and veggies may be the solution.

WATCH: More from Smarter Faster


Study: knowing more doesn't change disbeliefs about science

Associated Press

If someone is already pre-disposed to disbelieve scientific conclusions around issues like human evolution, climate change, stem cell research or the Big Bang theory because of their religious or political views, learning more about the subject actually increases their disbelief, a new study finds.

Why it matters: The research flies in the face of commonly held views that more science literacy and greater education around controversial scientific issues will diffuse polarization but supports a growing body of evidence about how our identity forms our views.

  • For stem cell research, the Big Bang theory and evolution, religious identity overrode science literacy.
  • Political beliefs surrounding climate change led to polarization.
  • They found little evidence (yet) of political or religious polarization for nanotechnology and genetically modified food.

What they found: Carnegie Mellon social scientists looked at Americans' beliefs around six potentially controversial issues: stem cell research, the Big Bang theory, nanotechnology, GMOs, climate change and evolution. The found people's beliefs about topics associated with their religious and political views become increasingly polarized with more education (measured by markers like the number of years in school, highest degrees earned, aptitude on general science facts or the number of science classes taken). Baruch Fischhoff from CMU said:

"These are troubling correlations. We can only speculate about the underlying causes. One possibility is that people with more education are more likely to know what they are supposed to say, on these polarized issues, in order to express their identity. Another possibility is that they have more confidence in their ability to argue their case."

One bright spot for science literacy advocates: If someone is already pre-disposed to trust the peer-reviewed science process and scientists, they're likely to believe what they say and find in all of these areas.

Go deeper: Arizona State University's Daniel Sarewitz got to the heart of it in the Guardian yesterday.


U.S. sanctions Chinese, Russian entities that help North Korea

Susan Walsh / AP

The U.S. Treasury has unveiled sanctions targeting Chinese and Russian entities doing business with North Korea, which is intended to add pressure to the North to soften its nuclear program. North Korea's number one trading partner is China, and most of the sanctions target Chinese companies, per The Washington Post.

Why it matters: This comes the same week as the U.S. and South Korea are conducting military exercises that China, Russia, and North Korea have all been opposed to, given that it looks like the U.S. is escalating its threat to the North — making an already tense week that much more precarious.

The sanctions target 10 entities and 6 individuals that help those who are already sanctioned who support North Korea's missile program or assist the country with its energy needs. It also targets people who help North Korea's export of workers, per CNBC.


Takeaways from former nat sec officials on Afghanistan

Carolyn Kaster / AP

The Cipher Brief got reactions to President Trump's speech on Afghanistan from top former national security officials — including former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, former Army vice chief of staff Gen. Jack Keane, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, and former acting CIA director Michael J. Morrell.

All are worth reading in full for their diversity of opinions, but here are three major takeaways across the interviews:

  • Trump sounded and acted presidential, which all four officials agreed was vital to delivering this speech effectively.
  • There was no outlined timetable for withdrawal — a departure from Obama-era policies that was seen as a positive and necessary step.
  • Trump's call to have India more involved in Afghanistan was the biggest news, but it could have a potentially destabilizing effect with the United States' relationship with Pakistan.

Pence explains why Trump didn't announce troop numbers


Vice President Mike Pence defended President Trump's speech on Afghanistan in a USA Today op-ed.

His overarching message: "Trump has determined that conditions — not arbitrary timetables — will guide our strategy. The previous administration alerted our enemies ahead of time by announcing troop numbers and timelines, something President Trump has wisely refused to do."

  • Trump's plan vs. Obama's: "We need only look at Iraq, and the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria following the last administration's withdrawal of U.S. forces, to see where this path leads."
  • Focus on Pakistan: "America will not write a blank check for countries that fail to root out the same forces who try every day to kill our people. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much more to lose by supporting terrorists. The president has put them on notice."