Oct 9, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,169 words, < 5 minutes.

And at this moment in 1996, the late Aaliyah was atop Billboard's R&B charts with today's infectious intro tune...

1 big thing: Warren's environmental justice plan
Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren wants to put environmental justice — that is, addressing the disproportionate pollution burdens that the poor and communities of color often face — at the center of responding to climate change.

Why it matters: Her plan, unveiled Wednesday, arrives as Warren has reached the top of the Democratic primary field.

  • She's caught Joe Biden in the closely watched RealClearPolitics average of 2020 White House polls for the first time.
  • However, the Massachusetts senator lags behind the former vice president among African American voters, a vital Democratic constituency.

The big picture: Warren's proposal is consistent with the Green New Deal's emphasis on tethering steep carbon emissions cuts to racial and workforce equity concerns.

  • Her platform is a mix of ideas around climate change specifically and environmental policy more broadly.

How it works: One portion would create an "equity screen" for big federal investments she's proposing for accelerating the transformation to low-carbon energy.

  • "I’ll direct one-third of my proposed climate investment into the most vulnerable communities," she writes, adding this would funnel at least $1 trillion into these areas over 10 years.

Other pillars of the plan include...

  • Better "equity mapping" to identify "cumulative environmental health disparities and climate vulnerabilities." This would be cross-referenced with other socioeconomic data to improve air and water pollution permitting.
  • Altering bankruptcy laws to "prevent coal and other fossil fuel companies from evading their responsibility to their workers and to the communities that they have helped to pollute."
  • Encouraging the EPA and the Department of Justice to "aggressively go after corporate polluters, particularly in cases of environmental discrimination."
  • Adding steps to ensure that workers in fossil fuel industries are not left behind. "I’m committed to providing job training and guaranteed wage and benefit parity for workers transitioning into new industries."
  • Focusing on at-risk populations in disaster planning and response via steps like updating federal flood maps, while "prioritizing and including frontline communities in this process."
  • Making it easier to move away from flood-prone areas through "buying back those properties for low-income homeowners at a value that will allow them to relocate."

The intrigue: The plan says Warren's positions in other policy areas will help address environmental justice.

  • For instance, Warren argues that Medicare for All will help the federal government "quickly tailor health care responses to specific environmental disasters in affected communities when they occur."
2. Ecuador shows why fuel subsidies are tough

Protestors in Quito, Ecuador, on Oct. 8. Photo: Jonatan Rosas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The turmoil in Ecuador is a fresh example of why fossil fuel subsidies are so persistent worldwide: There's support for phasing them out in theory, but in practice it's a different story.

Driving the news: President Lenín Moreno this week said he has temporarily moved government operations from the capital city, Quito, to the port city of Guayaquil.

  • This comes several days after Moreno announced the termination of roughly $1.4 billion in annual fuel subsidies, causing gasoline and diesel prices to rise sharply and playing a role in triggering violent protests.

Quick take: While I'm not an expert in Ecuadorian politics, it's hard not to see a connection here to protests earlier this year in France over an increase in the gasoline tax amongst other things.

  • This helpful Bloomberg explainer on Ecuador makes the same point about removal of decades-old subsidies there.
  • "Fuel price rises have a long history of provoking unrest not just in Latin America but around the globe — a gas tax increased sparked the Yellow Vest movement in France," they report.

Where it stands: AP reports that protestors have "seized some oil installations" as part of the wider demonstrations, and that the state oil company warned that lost production could reach 165,000 barrels per day.

  • "The government declared an overnight curfew around key state installations and government buildings as well as vital infrastructure such as airports and oil refineries," they report.
Bonus: Global fossil fuel subsidies
Expand chart
Reproduced from IEA; Note: In 2018 dollars; Chart: Axios Visuals

Needless to say, fossil fuel consumption subsidies are hardly unique to Ecuador, as this International Energy Agency data shows.

Check out the chart above, which reflects the subsidies that different fuels have received during this decade.

Why it matters: Climate advocates say fuel subsidies are among the barriers to emissions cuts. But the trick for policymakers is to reform the programs without further burdening the poor.

Go deeper:

3. Aramco reportedly readies key IPO document

Saudi Aramco is expected to publish its IPO prospectus before the end of this month, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday evening, citing anonymous sources familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: It's another sign that kingdom officials are planning to proceed with an offering of shares in the state oil giant after years of delays and uncertainties.

  • The document would also provide new information about the company's still opaque plans for a listing, which is designed to raise huge sums to help finance the country's economic diversification.

Where it stands: It's still unclear if the IPO is definitely happening. Per WSJ, publication of the prospectus would pave the way for a "final decision soon after on whether to proceed with the float."

  • A listing on the Saudis' domestic stock exchange could occur as soon as this year, to be followed by a listing on an as-yet-undetermined international exchange.
  • The 2-stage listing is aimed at selling shares in 5% of the company.
4. Breaking: Battery work lands Nobel Prize

Three scientists received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on lightweight lithium-ion batteries on Wednesday, Axios' Rashaan Ayesh reports.

Why it matters: "Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionized our lives since they first entered the market in 1991. They have laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind," states the award announcement.

The winners:

  • M. Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton first developed the technology in the 1970s, and his work resulted in the first functional lithium battery.
  • John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas at Austin "doubled" the battery's potential and helped make it more powerful.
  • Akira Yoshino of Japan's Meijo University eliminated the lithium in the battery to make it safer for more practical use.
5. PG&E begins power cut-offs to avert fire risk

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the California power giant, said early this morning that they've begun shutting off power to almost 800,000 customers in a bid to prevent fires when strong winds arrive.

Why it matters: Via the San Francisco Chronicle, "For PG&E, the shut-offs will mark a high-stakes test of a program the now-bankrupt company developed after being implicated in two years of catastrophic infernos."

  • The paper calls it the company's "biggest preemptive action to avert another destructive wildfire like those which took dozens of lives and destroyed thousands of homes over the past two years."

The big picture: "Utilities malfunctions have been tied to some of the state’s most destructive fires, including last year’s Camp fire, which devastated Paradise, Calif., and the 2017 wine country blazes," the Los Angeles Times notes.

  • As we pointed out yesterday morning, the move shows how the company is grappling with dangers heightened by global warming.
  • The blackouts will affect customers in northern and central California in parts of 34 counties, per the L.A. Times and other outlets.
6. Tweet of the day

This joke about the octopus comes via a tweet from BuzzFeed's deputy world news editor. But it's about a serious underlying topic.

Driving the news: It's a snapshot of the ongoing climate protests in London staged by the group Extinction Rebellion.

  • They're part of a wider protest movement on climate change as activists demand far more aggressive policies to cut emissions that are still rising worldwide.

Go deeper: Arrest Us, Please! Extinction Rebellion’s Path to Success (NYT)

Ben GemanAmy Harder