๐Ÿ‘“ Squint just right and the weekend is visible. We'll get you closer with a Smart Brevity count of just 1,204 words, 4.5 minutes.

๐Ÿ˜ฎ This week marks 25 years since Eminem released "The Slim Shady LP," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: New moves in ESG's widening battles

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Exclusive: a young advocacy group that defends climate-focused investing is today launching the next phase of its campaign, Ben writes.

What's new: Unlocking America's Future (UAF) just began its first paid media since announcing a wider eight-figure advocacy push in late 2023.

  • They hope to parry right-leaning critiques against Wall Street's environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.
  • The digital buy will start in Arizona, with plans to expand.
  • And there's a new website attacking conservative groups they accuse of "promoting the interests of greedy billionaires."

Why it matters: The culture wars have moved from politics to the executive suite, with the fallout prompting some of the biggest names on Wall Street to run for shelter.

Meanwhile: UAF released polling showing bipartisan voter support for ESG goals (alongside low familiarity with the term).

  • "The American public overwhelmingly opposes bans on responsible investing," spokesperson Kyle Herrig tells Axios.

State of play: State restrictions on use of public funds for ESG and brewing SEC climate disclosure rules are among today's battlegrounds.

  • Financial giants are on defense amid increasing oversight from congressional Republicans and anti-ESG initiatives among red state officials.
  • Some states have pulled money from asset managers with ESG offerings. Multiple have also passed or debated legislative restrictions โ€” a focus for UAF.
  • In recent days companies like State Street Global Advisors and J.P. Morgan Asset Management announced they're leaving the Climate Action 100+ coalition.

The big picture: ESG opponents accuse asset managers of prioritizing left-leaning goals over laser-focus on returns, among other criticisms.

  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan called departures from Climate Action 100+ "big wins for freedom and the American economy" said others should abandon "collusive ESG actions."
  • However, backers argue there's no trade-off and that focusing on ESG-based goals cuts investor risks.

Catch up fast: UAF launched in December and doesn't disclose donors. It receives administrative help from Climate Power.

  • UAF leaders include seasoned Democratic hands Zac Petkanas and Josh Schwerin, with people drawn from other backgrounds too.
  • It focuses on the whole ESG umbrella, instead of just the "E."

2. Graphite players nudge Biden on tariffs

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Mining and battery materials companies are asking President Biden to place a new tariff on imported products made with graphite, the largest component in EV batteries, Axios Pro: Energy Policy's Jael Holzman scooped this morning.

Why it matters: Tariffs would further ratchet up a trade conflict with China, the world's largest graphite producer. It restricted access to the metal late last year.

Driving the news: Five companies โ€” three with U.S. battery component plants and two Canadian mining entities โ€” asked Biden last night to reinstate Trump-era tariffs on natural and artificial graphite.

  • In a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative shared with Axios, the companies cited a lack of supply for graphite outside of China and depressed prices that make potential domestic sources of the metal less economic.
  • Also cited: China's recent restrictions on graphite exports.

Unlock the whole story โ€” and more vital scoops and analysis โ€” by talking to our sales team about Axios Pro: Energy Policy.

3. Catch up fast on oil: Mergers and Exxon

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

๐Ÿค Another one! Chord Energy Corp. is merging with Enerplus Corp. in an $11 billion cash and stock deal (including debt), Ben writes.

  • The big picture: It creates a major player in the prolific Williston Basin region of North Dakota and Montana. The companies had a combined output of 287,000 barrels per day of oil-equivalent as of late 2023.
  • Why it matters: The rapid consolidation in the U.S. oil patch extends beyond the Permian Basin. Investor deck...MarketWatch coverage

๐Ÿ›๏ธ Exxon's new motion to continue federal litigation against activist shareholders underscores how the oil giant views the case as a wider battle.

  • Driving the news: A filing last night in a Texas district court notes that despite a "low success rate," this activism is widespread because it offers "other benefits such as name recognition, fundraising opportunities, and a free platform to raise the profile of a proponent's issue or agenda."
  • Catch up fast: Exxon sued Arjuna Capital and Follow This over a resolution seeking tougher and more expansive emissions targets and is asking the court to continue the case even though the activists dropped the effort.
  • The other side: Arjuna and Follow This have called the case an effort to bully and silence activists, a view echoed by some other shareholder advocates.
  • The intrigue: Exxon's latest filing asks the court, among other things, to rule that "defendants may not coordinate with other activist shareholders to facilitate or encourage them to submit similar proposals in the future."

4. Takeaways from Energy Secretary Granholm's speech

Photo illustration: Aรฏda Amer/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson-Pool/Getty Images

A few takeaways and deep thoughts about National Press Club remarks by President Biden's energy boss...

๐Ÿ‘€ Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm teased an upcoming trade announcement. The former Michigan governor talked up trade as an industrial policy tool to promote low-carbon manufacturing.

  • "Without getting over my skis, more is going to come on that. Done right, and it will be done right, it will be a win for U.S. companies and workers," she said.

๐Ÿง  AI as a permitting accelerant. Granholm said the Department of Energy is exploring how to use artificial intelligence in processing land data and more.

๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ She took aim at China, and it wasn't subtle. Granholm leaned hard into casting Biden's subsidy-heavy manufacturing policies as an economic bulwark against China.

  • She also insisted DOE robustly vets whether companies seeking department funding have Chinese ties โ€” a topic where she has faced criticism.
  • "We want to develop our intellectual property here. We want to keep our intellectual property here, we want to manufacture it here."

๐Ÿคท There's no solid timeline on the pause and review of new LNG export projects. She offered "months" but no further details.

  • The remarks come after White House energy aide Amos Hochstein last week floated a ballpark time frame of 10-14 months.
  • Granholm argued the policy won't harm relations with import-dependent allies, citing LNG growth in years ahead via projects already approved.

5. New fusion cash for a major power player

A computer rendering of Type One's stellarator. Image: Courtesy of Type One Energy

Fusion energy developer Type One Energy is building its first prototype at one of the Tennessee Valley Authority's shuttered coal plants outside of Knoxville, Axios Pro: Climate Deals' Alan Neuhauser was first to report.

Why it matters: Type One's planned $223 million investment is a first for the TVA, the largest public power company in the U.S., and a major step forward for fusion's role in climate tech.

State of play: Type One and Tennessee officials hope to start building a so-called stellarator at the TVA's Bull Run Fossil Plant next year. Type One expects to invest the $223 million in the prototype and a new headquarters facility in Eastern Tennessee.

Of note: The company was also selected to receive funding through Tennessee's new $50 million nuclear energy development fund, a TVA spokesperson tells Axios.

Yes, but: Fusion faces daunting scientific and financial challenges even as many companies look to deploy versions of the tech.

  • Type One's twisty stellarator is especially complex. But the design is alluring because it could produce stable reactions at lower cost.

Get the whole story โ€” and a regular diet of scoops and insight โ€” by talking to our sales team about Axios Pro.

6. ๐Ÿš— Number of the day: -18%

That's the share price tumble of EV startup Rivian as of pre-market trading this morning, after it projected flat 2024 production and announced layoffs yesterday, Ben writes.

Shareholder letter

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๐Ÿ™ Thanks to Chris Speckhard and Javier E. David for edits to today's edition, along with the brilliant Axios Visuals team.