Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,290 words, 5 minutes.

📊 Data point of the day: 1 gigaton. AT&T wants to help businesses collectively cut greenhouse gas emissions by that amount by 2035, per a new initiative. The NYT has more.

🌀 Situational awareness: "Energy companies were assessing the health of refineries, pipelines, petrochemical plants and offshore oil platforms along the central Gulf of Mexico on Monday, the day after Ida struck Louisiana as a powerful Category 4 hurricane." (Wall Street Journal)

🎶 Tomorrow marks 40 years since Hall & Oates released the album "Private Eyes," which supplies today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Ida exposes precarious infrastructure

Bourbon Street during a citywide power outage caused by Hurricane Ida in New Orleans on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021. Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world, Ben and Andrew write.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

  • Climate science studies show extreme weather events, from wildfires to stronger hurricanes, are expected to affect the U.S. with greater frequency and ferocity than in previous decades.
  • There is also the risk of "compound events" with concurrent drought and fires in one part of the country and floods and hurricanes hitting another.

Catch up fast: Entergy, the utility that serves much of Louisiana, said Hurricane Ida's "catastrophic intensity" knocked out all eight transmission lines that serve New Orleans.

  • As of Tuesday morning, more than 1 million customers were still without power in Louisiana, according to PowerOutage.us.
  • "There are about 10 parishes that the electrical grids are completely collapsed and damaged, smashed, out — however you want to put it," Jefferson Parish Emergency Management director Joe Valiente tells NPR.

Why it matters: The last few years have brought clear signs that point toward the conclusion offered by Rhodes and other experts.

  • In California, the dangerous combination of drought and high temperatures is worsening wildfires and straining the grid. Outdated transmission lines touched off California's deadliest fire on record.
  • California power giant PG&E, in June, announced a multiyear plan to bury 10,000 miles of lines underground at a cost of $15 billion-$20 billion.
  • Texas suffered deadly outages last winter when Arctic air barreled far southward. Judah Cohen, a meteorologist at AER in Massachusetts, tells Axios that event may have had ties to climate change based on how a rapidly warming Arctic is affecting the polar vortex.

What they're saying: WIRES, a power industry group pushing for modernized transmission, said Ida's damage "only reinforces the need for a more resilient grid."

  • "Extreme weather events like Ida show the value of investment in local transmission projects to replace aging transmission infrastructure with stronger more resilient build out," said Larry Gasteiger, the group's executive director, in a statement.
  • Rhodes, for his part, has emphasized the usefulness of placing transmission lines underground.

What we're watching: How power companies and policymakers do — or don't — respond at local, state and national levels.

  • The bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate earlier this month contains grid modernization and resilience funding, but is nowhere near the scale needed to fully address the challenge while building out new transmission, experts say.
  • The bill's various provisions include directing the Energy Department to establish a $5 billion grant program for grid hardening to help reduce the impacts of extreme weather events.

The bottom line: Building resilience isn't cheap, even if it ultimately saves money and, more importantly, lives.

2. Glimpses of Ida's destruction in Port Fourchon

Aerial view of damage in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Photo: Rep. Garret Graves via Twitter

Hurricane Ida caused widespread destruction in Port Fourchon, La., where key facilities — from a helicopter base to rig servicing ships — are located that sustain offshore oil and gas projects in the Gulf of Mexico, Andrew writes.

3. The path to Biden's offshore wind goal

U.S. offshore wind project pipeline
Data: U.S. Department of Energy; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

There's enough U.S. offshore wind on the drawing boards to surpass President Biden's goal of 30 gigawatts (30,000 megawatts) of capacity by 2030, but getting there means transforming lots of planning into actual development, Ben writes.

Driving the news: A new Energy Department report takes stock of the emerging U.S. sector. The chart above looks at the project pipeline by state (and officials are also in the early stages of planning for California development).

By the numbers: "In 2020, the U.S. offshore wind energy project development and operational pipeline grew to a potential generating capacity of 35,324 megawatts," the report notes.

Why it matters: Officials see offshore wind among the many tools to help meet the White House goal of 100% carbon-free power by 2035.

  • Deep-pocketed companies including Equinor, Shell and BP, Portugal's EDP and others are involved in various partnerships for U.S. projects.
  • The administration has approved one large-scale project off the Massachusetts coast thus far and is looking to advance others.
  • But as of now, U.S. offshore wind already in operation is around 42 megawatts, a tiny fraction of the 30,000 megawatts national goal.

Catch up fast: On Monday, the Interior Department said it's moving forward with an environmental review of a plan for up to 122 turbines 31 miles east of Montauk, New York proposed by Orsted North America Inc. and Eversource Investment LLC.

The big picture: The fledgling offshore sector is small compared to the country's far vastly larger and more mature onshore wind industry.

  • The Energy Department, in a separate report, said nearly 17 gigawatts of new generating capacity were installed in 2020, a new record that represents 42% of all the new U.S. power capacity added last year.
  • Bloomberg has more.

Bonus: The state of global offshore wind

Global offshore wind production capacity
Data: U.S. Department of Energy; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

The U.S. is far behind nations where offshore wind is already well established, Ben writes.

The big picture: Over 5.5 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity was installed globally last year, the Energy Department report notes.

  • That brought the worldwide total to nearly 33 gigawatts at the end of 2020.
  • The long-term global project pipeline totals around 308 gigawatts of capacity.

4. Biden is caught between political worlds on climate

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

These two things both happened Monday: The Health and Human Services Department unveiled its climate office, and the White House promoted efforts to keep gasoline prices in check, Ben writes.

Why it matters: The two moves show how the White House is now operating simultaneously in the old and new world of energy and climate policy.

  • On the new front, the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity shows how the Biden administration is seeking to stitch efforts to address the causes and effects of climate change into agencies government-wide.
  • But Monday the White House also made public that the Federal Trade Commission is probing (among other things) gas stations mergers to avert potentially anti-competitive behavior that could drive up pump prices.

Our thought bubble: President Biden's administration is looking to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels, but it's also not going to abandon what a long string of administrations have viewed as the political imperative to show they want to constrain fuel costs.

Catch up fast: The New York Times reports here on the "first federal program aimed specifically at understanding how planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels also affect human health."

  • "In particular, experts said, more needs to be done to understand how extreme weather affects older people as well as communities of color, where families are more likely to live in areas hardest hit by disasters," Lisa Friedman reports.

5. Caldor Fire imperils Lake Tahoe homes and businesses

Flames and smoke rise as the Caldor Fire moves closer to South Lake Tahoe, California on Aug. 30, 2021. Photo: Neal Waters/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Caldor Fire, one of 13 large blazes in California, burned all the way to the Tahoe basin on Monday night into Tuesday morning, Andrew writes.

It now threatens highly populated areas, including South Lake Tahoe, with a population of 22,000.

The latest: The blaze, which has passed 186,000 acres in size, jumped Highway 89 in the Sierra Nevada — just hours after some 22,000 people were ordered to evacuate the city of South Lake Tahoe and surrounding communities, creating an epic traffic jam, the Sacramento Bee reports.

  • Ski areas are using their snowmaking machines as firefighting devices, converting them into water cannons.

Context: Climate change is leading to an increase in extreme fire weather days that feature bone dry conditions, high winds and hot temperatures.

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