Nov 1, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,245 words, < 5 minutes.

Coming up on “Axios on HBO”: We dig into the GOP’s looming Texas-sized problem with Reps. Will Hurd and Dan Crenshaw.

  • Plus, former Pastor Joshua Harris, who inspired a generation of evangelicals, discusses — for the first time — why he’s renouncing his faith. Watch 6pm Sunday.

And, yesterday marked 19 years since OutKast released the album "Stankonia," which provides today's brilliant intro tune...

1 big thing: Trump leaves automakers nowhere to hide

101 freeway in Los Angeles in September 2019. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's war with California over carbon emissions is putting several giant automakers in activists' crosshairs.

Driving the news: Multiple shareholder and environmental groups have begun, or are weighing, pressure campaigns against companies that have sided with the White House effort to strip California's power to impose strict mandates.

  • ICYMI: GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and several others intervened earlier this week on the administration's side in litigation on the matter.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign of how automakers are in a politically volatile, awkward position that risks attacks from either the Twitter-happy president — who isn't shy about attacking specific companies — or activist groups.

One big question: Whether the campaigns could create a consumer backlash against automakers siding with the White House.

  • Already, the NYT reports that Toyota's move in the litigation "shocked consumers" in eco-conscious California.

Where it stands: The sustainable investment advocacy group Ceres tells me they're working with allies to consider the "full suite of levers investors can pull as shareholders and as public officials and thought leaders."

  • "These include but aren't limited to direct shareholder engagement and shareholder resolutions. Investors also have the option of using their public platforms to condemn these decisions (public letters, op-eds, social media, etc.)," Ceres spokesperson Troy Shaheen said.
  • Other groups including the Sierra Club and the investor advocacy group As You Sow have also been critical of GM and other automakers on the matter.

The big picture: A truce of sorts is collapsing. While environmental pressure on the auto industry is decades-old, recent years have been relatively calm compared to pressure against the oil industry over climate change.

  • That's because the industry reached an agreement with the Obama administration during his first term on national emissions and mileage standards that were supposed to run until 2025.
  • But that all began to change when the industry supported Trump administration efforts to revisit the rules that manufacturers said were proving unrealistic.
  • However, automakers have now splintered over whether to back Trump's plan to greatly weaken the rules beyond what the companies believe is appropriate.

The bottom line: Automakers above all want to avoid a patchwork of standards, but they're adopting different strategies.

Of note: My Axios colleague Joann Muller will have more on how automakers are positioning themselves in the Axios Navigate newsletter later today. Sign up here.

2. The next White House move on cars

Reports last night confirm that the administration is backing off plans to freeze vehicle emissions and mileage rules and will instead require modest increases.

Driving the news: The upcoming final rules will likely require 1.5% annual fuel economy gains through 2025, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: The reporting adds clarity to where the administration will land when it comes to the hotly disputed rules.

The intrigue: The reported 1.5% boost is far less aggressive than Obama-era mileage and emissions mandates for cars and light trucks that the Trump administration is abandoning.

  • It's also softer than the deal Ford, VW, Honda and BMW struck with California in July. That agreement calls for emissions standards — essentially a proxy for mileage — that grow 3.7% stronger annually through 2026.

What's next: The administration's move, expected for weeks, is unlikely to end the intense political and legal battles over the topic.

One big question: Beyond the four companies that cut the deal with California, it's unclear how other automakers will respond.

What they're saying: Consumer Reports circulated a short analysis last night that concludes...

  • A 1.5% increase would bring a fleetwide average of 31.8 miles per gallon under real-world conditions in model year 2026, compared to 37.5 mpg under the Obama rules.
  • Added annual fuel costs for those 2026 vehicles would be $3,200 per year.
  • They caution that their analysis does not include potential "loopholes" in the regulation.

Go deeper: Trump officials likely to back off automotive regulations freeze

3. Big Oil out of step with Paris, think tank says

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Axios' Amy Harder reports ... The world’s biggest publicly traded oil and natural gas companies would have to cut production by roughly one-third on average by 2040 to meet the goals of the Paris climate deal, a new analysis concludes.

The big picture: The opposite is occurring. Most oil and gas producers are expanding production in response to growing demand and the fact that the world is not on track to meet the Paris ambitions.

Driving the news: ConocoPhillips would have to cut production more than any other energy producer (85%), while Royal Dutch Shell would have the least amount to drop (10%), according to the report by London-based financial think tank Carbon Tracker.

  • The main reason: Conoco’s production, heavily dependent on U.S. shale oil and gas, would decline faster than Shell’s, and it then wouldn’t have low-cost projects to replace it with, according to co-author Andrew Grant.
  • Cuts others would have to make: ExxonMobil (55%), Chevron (35%) and BP (25%).

How it works: The group, whose funding comes in part from philanthropic foundations, analyzed different types of oil and gas projects, such as carbon-heavy oil sands or relatively clean natural gas operations, to reach these conclusions.

  • It uses the concept of a “carbon budget,” indicating there is only so much more room to emit greenhouse gases if the world is to meet the goals of the Paris deal.
  • That 2015 accord calls for a rapid reduction in emissions to keep Earth’s temperature rise below 2°C within this century.

Go deeper

* * *

Speaking of the Paris agreement, the Guardian reports on the next phase of UN climate talks: "Spain has offered to host the COP25 UN climate conference in December after weeks of violent protests forced the Chilean government to cancel both the global environmental meeting and next month’s APEC trade summit."

4. Breaking: Exxon and Chevron see profits tumble

ExxonMobil and Chevron both reported steep declines in Q3 earnings this morning, becoming the latest oil giants hit by lower prices.

Where it stands: Exxon reported $3.17 billion in Q3 profits, down from $6.24 billion in the same period in 2018.

But, but, but: The company's earnings of 75 cents per share announced Friday beat forecasts and its stock ticked up slightly in pre-market trading.

Why it matters: Exxon is the largest U.S.-based multinational oil-and-gas company, and its financial performance has struggled in recent years.

The big picture: The company's report said its production rose 3% to 3.9 million barrels of oil-equivalent per day compared to Q3 of 2018.

  • However, that was nowhere near enough to offset lower prices, weaker margins in its refining business, and higher capital spending.

Turning to Chevron, the company reported $2.58 billion in Q3 profits, down from $4.05 billion during the same period last year.

  • “Lower crude oil and natural gas prices more than offset a 3 percent increase in net oil-equivalent production from last year's third quarter," CEO Michael Wirth said in a statement.

The bottom line: Via Bloomberg, "Oil producers are bracing for a tough 2020 amid signs that worldwide crude output will swamp demand, despite the best efforts of OPEC and allied producers to control supplies."

  • "Meanwhile, a raging trade war between the world’s two largest economies is undercutting demand for petroleum-based fuels and chemicals."
5. Petro-notes: Encana, Keystone, Marathon

Business: "Canadian oil and gas producer Encana plans to shift its base from Calgary, Alberta to the US and rebrand as Ovintiv, a move that analysts said signals that Canada’s energy sector is no longer a welcoming place for international business," FT reports.

Pipelines: "TC Energy’s Keystone pipeline has leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons (1.4 million liters) of oil in northeastern North Dakota, marking the second significant spill in two years along the line that carries Canadian tar sands oil through seven states, regulators said Thursday," per AP.

Refining: "Marathon Petroleum Corp chief Gary Heminger will leave next year, the largest U.S. independent refiner said on Thursday, adding it would launch a sweeping restructuring demanded by activist investors, including the spinoff of retail operations, " Reuters writes.

Ben GemanAmy Harder