Oct 26, 2020

Axios Generate

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,205 words, 4.5 minutes.

🚨Tonight on “Axios on HBO” at 11:16pm ET/PT on all HBO platforms:

  • Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) says she wants every Cabinet seat to go to a progressive if Joe Biden wins. (See clip.)
  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tells Jonathan Swan that he is “very worried” about the national debt under President Trump. (See clip.)

Back to energy: Today, I share a glimpse of my Harder Line column, which sizes up a potential second Trump term. (Next week, I look at a potential Biden presidency.) Then, in the rest of the newsletter, Ben Geman gets you up to speed on other news. 

1 big thing: Trump’s energy endgame

Illustration: AĂŻda Amer/Axios

Expect President Trump to redouble his efforts loosening regulations and questioning climate-change science should he win re-election next month.

Driving the news: This would supercharge efforts by certain states, countries and companies to address global warming. But some wildcards surrounding his second term could have a greener tinge.

Where it stands: Here’s a snapshot of six potential highlights from a second Trump term. Click here to read my full column.

1. Climate change: Beyond withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, people close to the administration say it’s likely he would move more aggressively to induce bureaucratic changes to processes and reports surrounding climate change.

  • Yes, but: Other longtime Washington insiders say there’s a chance Trump could moderate his position dismissing climate change.
  • “I’m not sure what additional meaningful pressure there would be on this front," says Scott Segal, co-head of Bracewell Policy Research Group, a D.C.-based lobbying firm.
  • A re-elected Trump wouldn't have to play to his base as much and instead could acknowledge the "clear market forces in favor of addressing carbon emissions and developing cleaner energy," Segal says.

2. Beyond Washington: Some states, cities and other regions of the world would likely act even more aggressively to address climate change under a second Trump term.

3. Wildcards: If Trump is going to pivot (that’s a big if), these are two actions he might take...

  • Support global and bipartisan efforts in Congress to clamp down on hydrofluorocarbons found in refrigerants of common appliances, like air conditioners. EPA has moved to roll back efforts on this front, despite rare universal business support. “That should move,” Segal says, citing industry support and the jobs it could create.
  • Reject Pebble Mine, a proposed large gold and copper mine at a prominent salmon fishery in Alaska. Trump has already indicated he’s receptive to pressure from influential conservatives who oppose it given their penchant for fishing.

4. Regulations: Trump’s top focus here will be defending in court his aggressive — and constantly litigated — agenda undoing virtually everything then-President Obama did on climate change and broader environmental regulations.

5. Oil, natural gas and coal: Trump is likely to continue extolling — and exploiting — America’s global dominance on oil and natural gas. BloombergNEF notes he may talk less about coal given his unfulfilled promise reviving that sector.

6. Renewable energy: Trump is likely to continue to mostly ignore and not prioritize renewable energy, but BloombergNEF says to expect the unexpected.

  • What we’re watching: I would closely follow how offshore wind fares. The industry has so far faced a lukewarm reception from the Interior Department, while the president himself is not a fan of wind.
2. Trump reaches for oil lifeline

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Trump's campaign is making energy policy a prominent part of its final swing state attacks against Joe Biden — especially in Pennsylvania, a state critical to Trump's re-election effort where he's trailing in the polls.

Why it matters: Natural gas and oil are important industries in several competitive states. They include Pennsylvania, the nation's second-largest gas producer, as well as Ohio, which also has substantial gas production.

  • Texas, the nation's largest oil-and-gas producer, hasn't voted for a Democratic nominee since 1976, but the race looks tight this year.

What we don't know: Whether any of this will sway votes in the final days as Biden leads in the polls and his campaign works to parry the criticism.

  • Proposals to expand clean energy and rein in carbon emissions typically poll very well.
  • Morning Consult and Politico published a post-debate poll finding that 57% of registered voters support phasing out the oil industry over time as the country moves to renewables.
  • 28% opposed it while 15% said they had no opinion.

Yes, but: Pennsylvania political analyst G. Terry Madonna says attacks around fracking might help Trump, even though state polls show voters divided on the topic.

  • "Fracking is very popular in portions of the state," he says.
  • One key thing, he adds, will be watching working-class counties in the state's southwest region where the gas industry is active — places Trump won by a lot in 2016 but has seen his standing erode.

Read more

3. On our radar: Big Oil earnings and Chinese emissions
Data: Company earnings reports; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A bunch of the world's largest oil-and-gas companies will report third-quarter earnings this week, including U.S.-based giants ExxonMobil and Chevron. BP starts things off tomorrow morning.

Why it matters: The reports will be the latest window into how the pandemic is hitting the sector's finances and what new steps companies may announce to rein in costs.

Bloomberg has a highly detailed preview.

* * *

We're also watching this week for new info on China's plan, announced last month, to become carbon neutral by 2060.

Where it stands: Via Reuters, "Chinese leaders will discuss ambitious new measures to tackle climate change on Monday at a government plenum to finalise a new five-year national development plan."

Why it matters: China is by far the world's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, so its success or failure affects global efforts to keep warming in check.

4. Oil's consolidation wave moves north

Cenovus Energy is buying Husky Energy in an all-stock deal valued at roughly $3 billion (and $18 billion including debt), the latest step in a wave of industry consolidation amid a pandemic that has sapped oil prices and demand.

Why it matters: The agreement will create Canada's third-largest oil-and-gas producer, with 750,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day in combined production, the companies said, which includes lots of oil-sands and heavy oil output.

The joint announcement Sunday says the deal, which both companies' boards have approved, will provide about $914 million worth of annual cost savings.

The big picture: It's the latest in a burst of big industry mergers lately as companies grapple with the pandemic that has battered the sector's finances.

Go deeper

5. What's holding back electric vehicles

Photo by picture alliance via Getty

Via Axios' Joann Muller: Analysts and investors are getting ever more bullish on electric vehicles, but with little regard, it seems, for consumer attitudes.

Why it matters: Tightening regulations around the world could indeed shove the vehicle market toward electrics more quickly than expected. But if consumers are reluctant to buy, automakers will have to slash prices and absorb the losses, erasing investors' rosy hopes.

What's happening: Morgan Stanley raised its forecast for battery electric vehicles last week, saying they'll account for 31% of global auto sales by 2030. IHS Markit projects EVs will be 60%–80% of cars sold by 2050.

Yes, but: While a new report from Resources for the Future finds 57% of future car buyers are willing to consider buying an EV, it also says it uncovered plenty of hesitation based on perceptions that aren't necessarily accurate...

  • Batteries may catch on fire.
  • Maintenance costs are higher.
  • EVs have weaker acceleration than gas-powered cars.
  • It's difficult to replace batteries.
  • There aren't enough EV mechanics.

Of note: 65% of respondents said they have not driven an EV or know anyone who has driven one. 

The bottom line: Automakers have a serious education challenge ahead.

6. Catch up fast: Japan, California, oil markets

Climate: "Japan will be carbon neutral by 2050, its prime minister said on Monday, making an ambitious pledge to sharply accelerate the country’s global warming targets, even as it plans to build more than a dozen new coal-burning power plants in the coming years." (NYT)

  • Of note: We previewed the move and its importance here.

Power: "Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced Sunday that it would begin power shut-offs for roughly 361,000 California customers due to dry weather that could risk wildfire spread." (Axios)

Oil-and-gas: "Oil prices fell on Monday, extending last week’s losses, as increasing coronavirus cases in the United States and Europe raised worries about energy demand, while Libya’s fast growing production also weighed on prices." (Reuters)