Apr 8, 2021

Axios Generate

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,161 words, 4.4 minutes.

🥵 "Methane levels in the atmosphere surged during 2020, marking the biggest increase since records began in 1983, in what scientists called a worrying development for the planet." (Financial Times)

🎶 And at this moment 40 years ago, Blondie was #1 on the Billboard singles charts with today's iconic intro tune...

1 big thing: The emerging frontiers of climate activism

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The new(ish) group Law Students for Climate Accountability just launched a pressure campaign against the heavyweight law firm Gibson Dunn over its work for oil industry clients.

Why it matters: It's just one of many examples of how climate activism has been tactically evolving in recent months and years.

That includes taking aim at a wider suite of corporate targets, like PR agencies and Big Tech, and intensifying a yearslong focus on the finance sector.

What we're watching: Here's more of what we've seen, though it's hardly an exhaustive list:

1. PR and ad agencies. The Clean Creatives campaign launched in late 2020 is trying to make it uncomfortable for public relations and advertising agencies to work with fossil clients. The NYT recently dug in.

2. Wall Street. Activists have created new coalitions, such as BlackRock's Big Problem, an umbrella group formed in 2018 that pushes the asset management giant to do more.

  • Environmental groups have recently been increasing pressure on private equity heavyweights like Apollo Global Management to decarbonize their portfolios.
  • To be sure, banking and finance sectors have for many years been targets of pressure to divest from fossil companies, curb lending and more. But the efforts are getting bigger and evolving.

3. Twitter push back. Climate essayist Mary Annaïse Heglar has helped popularize pushing back against Big Oil Twitter accounts, or "greentrolling."

4. Big Tech: Recent years have brought new and organized criticism of tech behemoths over business lines tailored to oil companies and emissions more broadly.

5. Racial justice. The disproportionate environmental burdens and risks that communities of color face have for decades been the focus of some groups.

  • But the links between climate and racial equity are now getting more focus, with the police killing of George Floyd underscoring their salience.

6. Social media practices. Environmentalists have been pressing Facebook and YouTube to stem the flow of climate misinformation.

7. The courts and agencies. A growing number of cities and states have been suing Big Oil companies to hold them liable for costs they incur from climate change, without success so far.

  • Environmentalists recently targeted Chevron's marketing with what they called a novel Federal Trade Commission complaint.

Read the whole story

2. A tough path for Senate energy legislation

Giphy

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said there's "no circumstance" in which he'd "vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster," and he expressed alarm at the budget reconciliation process in a Washington Post op-ed Wednesday.

Why it matters: Axios' Rebecca Falconer has a wide-angle look at the news here, but let's look at the energy ramifications: Manchin's posture underscores why Democrats face a very difficult path in their bid to move sweeping climate and energy measures through the Senate with their razor-thin margin.

Catch up fast: President Biden is pitching a $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan that contains major spending on clean energy and transit, and also calling for a big package of new and expanded clean energy tax incentives.

Where it stands: GOP lawmakers are concerned about the price tag and calling for a much narrower definition of infrastructure than Democrats are floating.

Manchin's attacks on reconciliation — the process that makes certain spending and tax plans immune from filibuster — means at least some GOP support would be needed for Biden's plan.

Quick take: A super-duper nuanced reading (OK, over-reading) of Manchin's op-ed may suggest wiggle room on using reconciliation for some energy measures. Or maybe I just need more coffee, but anyway...

  • He name-checks topics he says should be handled through "regular order" — that is, subject to needing a super-majority vote.
  • The list: "Voting rights reforms, instituting health-care protections and changes to the federal tax code and business regulations."
  • Manchin doesn't explicitly mention energy (and he's chairman of the Senate's energy committee).
3. Breaking the link between GDP and CO2
Expand chart
Data: The Breakthrough Institute; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

A new analysis finds "increasing evidence" of a fraying connection between economic growth and higher carbon emissions — a needed first step toward steep CO2 cuts.

Driving the news: The Breakthrough Institute's Zeke Hausfather finds that since 2005, emissions have become "decoupled" from GDP growth in 32 nations with a population of at least 1 million people.

  • That is, emissions have fallen while the economy has grown in these nations (some of them are seen in the chart above).
  • This applies to territorial emissions, or "those within national borders," and consumption emissions, which means "emissions embodied in the goods consumed in a country."

Why it matters: "[W]ith the rapid cost reductions of clean energy and an expected peak in Chinese emissions in the next five to ten years, it is only a matter of time before absolute decoupling becomes the norm," writes Hausfather, a climate scientist.

Yes, but: "The extent to which this will occur rapidly enough to avoid dangerous levels of warming depends on both the degree of technological progress and the willingness of governments worldwide to invest in mitigating climate change," his analysis adds.

As he points out, significant emissions declines are needed to keep the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to well under 2℃ above pre-industrial levels.

Read the analysis

4. Business and money notes: BlackRock, EVs, renewables

Finance: "BlackRock Inc. has raised $4.8 billion for a new fund to invest in renewable power assets around the world — almost double its initial target." (Bloomberg)

Big trucks: "Daimler Trucks North America announced on Tuesday that its battery-electric eCascadia and eM2 trucks are now available for preorder. The company claims that both trucks will be the longest-range commercial electric vehicles on sale in the US." (CNET)

Deals: "Trafigura’s joint venture Nala Resources and Buckeye Partners have bought a majority stake in Boston-based Swift Current Energy, Nala said in a statement on Wednesday." (Reuters)

5. Treasury puts a number on its fossil tax plan

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Treasury Department estimates its plan to end subsidies for fossil fuel companies would bring in over $35 billion in federal revenue over 10 years.

Driving the news: "The main impact would be on oil and gas company profits. Research suggests little impact on gasoline or energy prices for U.S. consumers and little impact on our energy security," officials said in a report on the wider White House tax policy proposal.

  • The White House has not spelled out precisely what tax code provisions that affect fossil fuel companies they want to change.
  • But past Democratic proposals have taken aim at areas like write-offs for certain drilling costs and the oil-and-gas industry's eligibility for deductions on manufacturing income.
  • The White House is looking to boost tax revenue from the oil industry while expanding tax incentives for renewable power, creating new transmission and storage credits and more.

The other side: The oil-and-gas industry argues that it doesn't get special treatment under the tax code, and instead uses provisions aimed at spurring a wide range of business investment.

Via Reuters, the American Petroleum Institute argues that "Targeting specific industries with new taxes would only undermine the nation’s economic recovery and jeopardize good-paying jobs, including union jobs."

Go deeper: Biden Tax Plan Targets Fossil Fuel Subsidies Worth $35 Billion (Bloomberg)

6. The specifics of Biden's EV pitch

Reuters got a look at a Transportation Department email that provides more details about the White House push for $174 billion in vehicle electrification measures.

Driving the news: The White House, as part of its wider infrastructure plan, wants "$100 billion in new consumer rebates and $15 billion to build 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations."

Also in the proposal: "$20 billion for electric school buses, $25 billion for zero emission transit vehicles and $14 billion in other tax incentives."

Of note: Politico first reported on the DOT email to congressional staff, the Reuters piece points out.