Aug 21, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,275 words, < 5 minutes.

Please read this housekeeping note: Generate is taking a break next week, but keep an eye on the Axios website for big energy news. The newsletter will return on Monday, Aug. 31.

And Sunday will mark the birthday of the late drummer Keith Moon, so his brilliance with The Who propels today's intro song...

1 big thing: Biden centers climate on his biggest stage

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Joe Biden emphasized climate change in last night's acceptance speech as the days leading up to it offered fresh evidence of the problem's scale and tensions within his coalition.

Driving the news: Biden listed climate among the four "historic crises" facing the U.S., alongside the pandemic, the economic crash and the need for racial justice.

The U.S. must confront the "undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change," Biden said last night at the Democrats' convention.

Why it matters: It was a statement of priority in the most important speech of Biden's campaign to unseat President Trump, and the address mentioned the topic repeatedly.

  • It came amid a heat wave and big wildfires in California, reminders of the impact of global warming (though climate is among several forces that boost fire risks and intensity).
  • Earlier in the night, California Gov. Gavin Newsom gave remarks not far from the site of one of the fires in his state. "The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California," he said.

The big picture: Biden tethered climate to his economic message and plans, calling it an "enormous opportunity."

  • "An opportunity for America to lead the world in clean energy and create millions of new good-paying jobs in the process," he said, a theme echoed by other speakers during the week.
  • That's something to watch because it could signal, if he wins, near-term efforts to push major climate-related spending through Congress as part of the economic response to the pandemic, something we wrote about here.
  • Biden's plan calls for $2 trillion in new investments over four years in clean energy and climate-friendly infrastructure programs.

Yes, but: This week also showed policy divides within the Democratic coalition that would probably surface again if Biden wins, and if Democrats regain the Senate, which would open the door for legislative steps.

  • There was the dust-up over the removal of language opposing fossil fuel subsidies from the party's nonbinding platform, though Biden's team sought to smooth it over by re-upping his anti-subsidy stance.
  • And check out my Axios colleague Dan Primack's chat on the Axios Re:Cap podcast with New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Biden surrogate.
  • She opposes Biden's position that fracking should be banned on federal lands, but her stance contrasts with some activists who say Biden's agenda should take an even more aggressive stance on fossil fuels.
2. Where fossil fuel companies are shedding jobs
Data: BW Research; Table: Axios Visuals

A new report this morning finds that various fossil fuel industries shed a combined 118,000 jobs in the March-July period.

Why it matters: The BW Research analysis is a window onto the effects of the crisis on workers in industries including oil.

  • Production has declined substantially due to the collapse in demand and prices, although both have seen a partial recovery.
  • "Oil lost the most workers of the fossil fuels, shedding 69,400 jobs or 17 percent of pre-COVID-19 employment. Most job losses were in extraction activities," it states.

Threat level: "While oil, gas, and coal jobs continued to shed during June’s job bump, Hispanic and Latino energy workers were hit the hardest, as 34 percent of derrick operators, rotary drill operators, and roustabouts in the U.S. are Hispanic/Latino," the report finds.

Of note: The analysis doesn't include "many temporarily furloughed or underemployed workers," BW notes.

The company also analyzes job numbers in clean energy sectors.

3. California and the politics of energy

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Axios' Amy Harder reports...The response from America’s political class to California’s overlapping crises of heat waves, wildfires and power blackouts shows just how politicized these topics have become.

Driving the news: President Trump and other Republicans say the whole country will face California’s problems if Democrats pass their policies. Meanwhile, some Democrats are pushing political messages with the state’s extreme weather.

Where it stands: Politicians are trying to extract simple political wins from the complex problems — electricity outages and extreme weather — that millions of Californians are facing.

What they’re saying: When presented with the argument that California’s blackouts are raising concerns about renewable energy and could reflect poorly on Democrats’ plans to increase wind and solar across the country, Democratic political adviser John Podesta responded in an interview with Axios Wednesday:

  • “I am just not that worried about it. We’re not through hurricane season," Podesta said. "We’re not through fire season. All that plays the other direction.”
  • The Democratic National Convention also featured a survivor of a past California wildfire, as well as California Gov. Gavin Newsom's remarks we highlighted in today's top item.

The other side: “The Bernie/Biden/AOC Green New Deal plan would take California’s failed policies to every American!” Trump tweeted earlier this week.

  • House Republicans also sent out a Wall Street Journal editorial on Thursday with the same message and a news article raising concerns about wind and solar.

Reality check: As climate change makes extreme weather more frequent, including heat waves and wildfires, the public is growing more aware of them, and thus becoming more politically palpable. That doesn’t mean they should become political plays.

Although the cause of the blackouts is still being determined, many experts say the state's growing reliance on wind and solar is one of many factors. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t keep growing. It just means grid regulators need to account for the changes, which California agencies just conceded.

Go deeper

4. Finance pros knock Labor Dept. plan to limit ESG

A new report shows strong opposition among asset managers, financial advisers and other industry actors to Labor Department plans to restrict ESG investing.

Driving the news: Several groups are out with an analysis of public comments on the draft rule that would limit private retirement plan managers' leeway to invest based on ESG — environmental, social and governance — factors.

The analysis is from Ceres, Morningstar Research Services, the AFL-CIO, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, Impax Asset Management and others.

Why it matters: The rule has transformed the Labor Department into a battleground over climate (though of course climate is just one part of ESG investing).

Of note: The groups behind the study are active opponents of the rule, not dispassionate observers. But the results track with your Generate host's less rigorous review of the comment docket in recent weeks.

The other side: Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia says there's evidence that "when investments are made to further a particular environmental or social cause, returns unsurprisingly suffer."

But the report is the latest analysis to dispute this and argues the expert input in the comment docket makes their case.

The Labor Department "has not shown that a problem exists that is in need of regulatory action, either that plan fiduciaries have been inappropriately selecting ESG investments or that ESG-focused funds have given up returns in exchange for 'non-pecuniary' benefits," it concludes.

Go deeper: The stage is set for a battle on sustainable investing

5. Catch up fast: Politics, EVs, OPEC

Elections: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday endorsed Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III in his bid to unseat the state's incumbent Sen. Ed Markey, giving Kennedy a crucial boost in a tight Democratic primary race." (Axios)

  • Of note: Markey authored the Green New Deal resolution in the Senate and, as a House member a decade ago, co-wrote the big climate bill that cleared that chamber but got no further.

Electric cars: "Chinese electric vehicle (EV) maker Nio Inc has launched a battery leasing service that will allow drivers to buy an EV without owning the battery pack — one of the most expensive EV components — thereby lowering the starting price of its cars." (Reuters)

Oil: "The Saudi royal running the kingdom’s oil policy is achieving something his predecessor never did: bringing the quota cheats of OPEC+ to heel." (Bloomberg)

6. Number of the day: $2,001.83

That's Tesla's stock price at yesterday's market close after a day that marked the first time the Silicon Valley electric vehicle company's share price has cracked $2,000.

Where it stands: The share price — which began the day at roughly $1,861 and soared as high as about $2,022 — gives the company a market capitalization above $370 billion.

It began the year at about $430-per-share.

Ben GemanAmy Harder