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Onto music. Happy birthday to Michael Stipe of R.E.M., who will play us into today's edition...
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
It's a climate contradiction! Democrats still have almost no power to make policy in Washington. But what they do next matters a lot.
The big picture: Two overlapping events — the soft launch of the 2020 White House race and Democrats assuming House control this week — open a crucial period.
Driving the news: Democrats used their first day in the House majority yesterday to signal that climate would be a focus.
Why it matters: Democrats — on the campaign trail and on the Hill — need to lay the policy and political groundwork if the window for legislation or administrative moves opens after 2020.
The intrigue: There are tensions within the party and among activists. Here are a few of the fault lines that are already apparent or could open up...
1. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and some other insurgent progressives — backed by activists with the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats — say the new select committee is too weak.
2. Competition for political attention on the campaign trail and in the House will be rampant. I know I'm a broken record here, but climate and energy are typically second-tier (at best) topics in national elections.
3. The nitty-gritty of crafting policy recommendations will bring some tough questions to the forefront, such has how much to emphasize carbon pricing.
4. The tensions between establishment liberals like Pelosi and the new AOC crowd have been sucking up the oxygen, but getting aggressive on climate could also bring clashes with centrist and oil patch Democrats.
The Dallas Fed said a survey of oil-and-gas companies in its region, which spans Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana, showed that growth in energy sector activity "slowed significantly" in the fourth quarter.
What's next: Over half the 163 firms surveyed said the recent drop in oil prices would affect their spending plans in 2019. Nonetheless, 53% still expect to increase outlays.
Why it matters: The latest survey is a sign of how the steep drop in oil prices is changing the calculus for oil companies in the banks' region, which includes the surging Permian Basin and other shale regions.
Details, per the report:
Go deeper: CNBC has more on the report here.
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A couple more oil-and-gas items...
LNG, part 1: Per Reuters, "A record amount of liquefied natural gas (LNG) production is expected to get the green light in 2019 amid strong global demand, especially from China, analysts said."
LNG, part 2: Via S&P Global Platts, "Alaska has extended a deadline for Chinese companies to agree on LNG purchases and financing for the $43 billion Alaska LNG project, a spokesman for the state-owned Alaska Gasline Development Corporation said Thursday."
Interior: The Washington Post reports, "The Justice Department’s public integrity section is examining whether newly departed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to his agency’s inspector general investigators, according to three people familiar with the matter, a potential criminal violation that would exacerbate Zinke’s legal woes."
Quitting coal: The Houston Chronicle describes new Rice University research showing that Texas is a place where "natural patterns of wind and sun could produce power around the clock."
Electric vehicles: The Verge writes, "General Motors confirmed on Thursday that it sold its 200,000th plug-in vehicle in the US during the fourth quarter of 2018, which has triggered a slow phaseout of the $7,500 federal tax credit over the next 15 months. GM is the second automaker to pass this mark; Tesla reached 200,000 vehicles sold in the US last summer."
The energy community is mourning the death of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member Kevin McIntyre, who was chairman of the agency until recently. He was 58.
Background: McIntyre, a Republican, was treated for brain cancer in 2017 before becoming chairman in December of that year. But he stepped aside as chairman last fall after announcing a "serious health setback."
His work included:
Between the lines: McIntyre's passing now leaves FERC with a 2-2 split between Republicans and Democrats until a successor is nominated and confirmed by the Senate. That could lead to some policy deadlocks, ClearView Energy Partners said in a note...
"Such partisan divides appear most relevant in the case of Commission approvals for LNG terminals and natural gas pipelines, and potentially on orders that impact the fuel mix of the electric generation sector."
What they're saying: FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee called it a "deeply sad day" for the commission and all who knew McIntyre personally and professionally.
McIntyre graduated from San Diego State University and Georgetown Law, and helped lead the energy practice at the firm Jones Day before joining FERC in 2017. He's survived by his wife Jenny and their 3 children: Lizzie, Tommy and Annie.
Axios' Andrew Freedman has a look at Kelvin Droegemeier, who won Senate confirmation this week to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Why it matters: Trump took longer to name a science adviser than any other president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Trump administration has been grappling with complex science topics with a depleted science staff and no OSTP director.
The big picture: Once he starts work, Droegemeier will stand out within the administration for his mainstream views on climate science and other issues about which the president has baselessly spurned scientific evidence.
One of the last 5 coal plants in France, which plans to close all by 2022. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images
Axios Expert Voices contributor Justin Guay writes that for the first time, the International Energy Agency has projected declining coal demand from 2021 to 2022 as well as overall flat consumption through 2023.
The big picture: According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, OECD countries must eliminate coal by 2030 in order to keep global warming under 1.5°C. Now that global coal consumption may have peaked, the question is how fast OECD countries will move from this plateau to absolute declines.
What’s next: Coal plant retirements in the OECD may gather speed given the rapid fall in clean energy prices, which are now lower than coal everywhere in the world except Japan. More importantly, 96% of existing coal plants will be more expensive to run than to replace with clean energy by 2030.
Yes, but: IEA found pockets of coal-consumption growth in the developed world, particularly South Korea. More significantly, the agency still forecasts long-term growth in South and Southeast Asia, especially in India, which led the world in increasing consumption by 40 million tons in 2018.
The bottom line: Staving off the worst impacts of climate change will require curbing the growth of the coal industry in the developing world and phasing it out entirely in OECD countries.
Guay directs global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project and advises the ClimateWorks Foundation.