Apr 26, 2017

Axios Generate

Good morning and welcome back to Generate! A quick note: my colleagues on the Axios health care team are all over the latest moves on tumultuous GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. So I highly recommend signing up for Vitals, the Axios morning health care newsletter, which you can do here. Ok, let's dive in . . .

Paris maneuvers

New this morning: Over a dozen major companies are joining the ranks of corporate giants who are publicly pressing the White House to remain in the Paris climate accord.

Who's in favor: Companies sending a new letter to President Donald Trump include tech giants Google, Microsoft and Intel; oil majors BP and Shell; and other large entities like Walmart, General Mills, Unilever and DuPont.

What they're saying: The letter organized by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions argues that staying in the pact helps U.S. economic competitiveness, arguing that climate change presents business risks and opportunities.

  • "U.S. business interests are best served by a stable and practical framework facilitating an effective and balanced global response. We believe the Paris Agreement provides such a framework."

Happening Thursday: A closed-door White House meeting, where competing factions of high-level officials discuss the administration's approach to the Paris climate change accord. Politico first reported the meeting, which was confirmed by Axios. A decision is expected by late May about whether to begin pulling out of the 2015 pact.

  • Flashback: The meeting was supposed to happen last week but was scuttled.

Where it stands: Internal lines were defined a little sharper yesterday. Energy secretary Rick Perry said publicly that he's in the camp that supports staying in the accord, but altering the U.S. commitment.

  • That puts the Energy secretary at odds with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who are are pushing for Trump to stick with his campaign promise to bail. Forces inside the administration in the "remain" camp include White House senior advisor Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Once you're in it, you're in it: On Capitol Hill, GOP West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a coal industry ally, told Axios that at this point it's best to stay. "I would prefer that we weren't in it, but I think that the ramifications of pulling out right now — we might be able to do better work if we stay in and reach more reasonable parameters," she said.

Not too late to bail:

But Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and whose state is the largest coal producer, told reporters yesterday that he's still advocating for the U.S. to pull out. Yesterday, Barrasso, also

circulated documents

supporting his position at a GOP luncheon. And

Politico reported

that after meeting with Pruitt, the National Mining Association said they decided to support pulling out of the pact (although the NMA denies Pruitt urged them to publicly support pulling out).

In the tanks: energy patenting and carbon pricing

A couple of new think tank reports caught my eye.

Patenting: The Brookings Institution looks at U.S. clean energy innovation's future through the lense of detailed data on technology patenting trends.

Why it matters: Patenting trends are one proxy of the health and economic competitiveness of the clean tech sector and its future attributes.

A big takeaway: Congress should prevent Trump's effort to cut clean tech R&D and commercialization programs.

It's important right now, because "several indicators of the competitiveness of U.S. clean tech innovation are raising warning lights." A few things worrying the authors:

  • Clean tech patents issued have been declining since 2014 after years of growth.
  • Patenting is concentrated in a few areas like advanced materials, efficiency and transportation, with "drastically fewer" in areas including advanced nuclear and hydro power. That could stymie the potential for nuclear in particular to play a larger role in zero-carbon power.
  • Clean tech patents are increasingly held by foreign companies, which could hinder U.S. competitiveness.

Carbon pricing: A Resources For the Future paper explores power companies' use of internal or "shadow" carbon pricing as a way to prepare for future emissions policies and hedge their bets.

  • Bottom line: Trump's effort to upend EPA's Clean Power Plan makes it unclear whether utilities will assume those reductions in their plan. But author Joseph Kruger argues that companies should keep using internal carbon pricing that assumes the need to cut emissions in the future, regardless of the CPP's fate.
  • One key recommendation: State utility commissions should require power companies in their jurisdiction to include carbon pricing in their resource plans.
Notes from the oil (and gas) patch

Climate: The Energy Intelligence Group is out with a new report that broadly explores how the world's largest oil companies are approaching climate change and low-carbon energy.

  • Reality check: One interesting takeaway is that despite lots of pro-climate talk by European majors, their investments are modest, with 5 percent or less of their 2017 spending devoted to low-carbon energy.
  • "In many cases, the greenest oil majors do plan to ramp up renewables spending, but are holding out until 2020 or until the business case for renewables improves."

Offshore: Trump's upcoming executive order on Friday will open the door (eventually) to new oil-and-gas lease sales off the Pacific coast for the first time in decades, according to Bloomberg.

LNG: Platts has a look at the Energy Department's decision to approve liquefied natural gas exports from the Golden Pass project in Texas.

  • It's happening "against a backdrop of a seemingly glutted global LNG market and continued concerns about the impact on US natural gas prices."

Service companies: The Houston Chronicle examines how oilfield service companies have new wind in their sails and more promising earnings results after years of having to cut prices.

  • "Higher prices have helped the world's biggest services companies — Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes — send more equipment into the field, resume hiring after deep job cuts and report significantly better earnings in the first quarter of the year."
From Amy's notebook

Reaction to Energy secretary Rick Perry's speech Tuesday at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York was muted at best, according to conversations Axios reporter Amy Harder had with attendees at the event. The reason is simple: most of the hundreds of executives there focus more on renewables than fossil fuels.

What happened: In a room full of hundreds of mostly renewable energy executives, Perry gave a forceful speech that focused more on backing fossil fuels than backing renewables. He also indicated that at least some of the deep budget cuts the White House is calling for at the department, much which affect renewable energy programs, will come to pass.

What we heard: "While the energy secretary suggested that science will guide the U.S. energy policy, his speech communicated preference for coal and fossil fuels," said Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, an Expedia-like company that runs a market for solar installers.

On tap Wednesday

Interior: Trump will travel to Interior Department headquarters to sign an executive order calling for a review of national monument designations.

  • The review will examine designations that date back to the start of 1996, according to the Washington Post.

Earnings: Energy companies including Entergy, Hess, First Solar and Total SA will report first quarter results today.

Congress: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on new GOP legislation to revive the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump. Witness testimony is already available here.

Plus a Thursday preview:

Sens. Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley will roll out new legislation aimed at phasing out fossil fuel use in the U.S. by 2050. It's got no chance of passage but can serve as a rallying point for activists.

Lightning round

Trump and efficiency: CNN reports that Trump's properties have received low ratings under the federal Energy Star program that the White House budget proposal would gut.

Jobs: The New York Times has a useful graphic on employment levels in various parts of the energy sector.

Tech: MIT Technology Review checks in on the latest developments at the Cyclotron Road, the incubator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

EVs: Volkswagen is planning to launch an all electric vehicle in China next year, according to the Associated Press story that provides a good look at China's EV market and plans.

Nuclear: The Wall Street Journal reports that the American Petroleum Institute, a powerful lobbying group, has waded into state-level fights over nuclear power in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The group is opposing subsidies that would keep aging plants operating.

Thanks for reading! As always, your confidential tips and feedback (which has been very helpful!) is welcome at ben@axios.com.