Jun 26, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning, you've got me leading the way today with Ben Geman taking a well-deserved day off.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,122 words, or 4 minutes.

1 big thing: Natural gas and nuclear tussle in Europe

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Europe is facing pressure to include natural gas and nuclear power as part of its plan for sustainable finance.

Why it matters: Europe represents the progressive edge of the world’s response to climate change and controls a lot of finance in developing nations, so what it does on these controversial energy sources could set the bar globally.

Driving the news: The European Commission is poised to decide in the coming months to what degree natural gas and nuclear power, along with other types of energy technologies, are considered sustainable and worthy of investment.

  • The policy, known as sustainable taxonomy, is part of the European Green Deal, a sweeping climate policy the commission introduced late last year that has now been incorporated into the continent’s plan to economically recover from the pandemic.

What’s happening: In a report the International Energy Agency issued Thursday reviewing Europe’s energy policies, the influential intergovernmental agency urged Europe to include the technologies.

  • “Natural gas and nuclear energy need to be covered under the taxonomy as transition technologies. If this is not the case, this may have wide impacts on private and public funding for these sectors.”

The big picture: These two energy types have long been controversial for different reasons, but they both fill key roles in cutting emissions, either on an absolute basis (nuclear power emits zero heat-trapping emissions) or relatively speaking (natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as coal).

Yes, but:

  • Environmentalists and progressive politicians around the world are increasingly opposed to natural gas because although it reduces emissions relatively speaking, it’s still not enough to tackle climate change to the level scientists say we must.
  • Concern is rising about emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s also the primary component of natural gas. Europe is set to release a policy on this in the coming months, too.
  • As for nuclear power, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine imprinted a vicious memory of the technology in the minds of many European nations, downwind of the radioactive material spewing from the explosion.

What they’re saying:

  • “We see gas, indeed, as an important transition energy source. It’s an important part of our energy consumption now,” said Ditte Juul-Jørgensen, director-general for energy of the European Commission, told Axios in a phone interview Thursday.
  • Juul-Jørgensen also described nuclear as a “very important part of the European energy mix,” but then deflected further by saying it’s a decision left up to each country whether they pursue the technology.

Go deeper: In Europe’s green recovery, natural gas faces uncertain future

Bonus chart: Europe leads world in emissions decline
Reproduced from IEA; Chart: Axios Visuals

President Trump likes to tout that the United States leads the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it's actually Europe.

Driving the news: More energy efficiency, renewable energy and switching from coal to natural gas, which emits half the carbon dioxide than coal when burned, are the key reasons for the decline, per the International Energy Agency.

2. Catch up fast: Drilling, carbon, trucks

Drilling: The Interior Department on Thursday proposed to expand oil and gas drilling to over two-thirds of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska: the nation's largest stretch of public land. (Axios via Washington Post)

  • Yes, but: With capital spending by oil and gas companies in a steep decline, "the industry has virtually no appetite for Alaska drilling," Pavel Molchanov, senior energy analyst for the investment firm Raymond James, told the Post.

Carbon capture: A big proposal in Norway to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions may prove to be too costly, the government said in a new report. (Bloomberg)

  • Why it matters: If Norway, rich in both oil and money, can't afford carbon capture, don't hold your breath for the rest of us.

Electric trucks: California mandates more electric commercial trucks (Los Angeles Times)

  • What we're watching: "Several other states, most in the Northeast, plan to adopt the air board’s mandate, known as the Advanced Clean Truck initiative," the LAT writes.

Lawsuit: The Washington, DC attorney general became the latest to file a lawsuit suing oil companies over climate change. (Reuters)

  • Flashback: The Minnesota AG filed a similar lawsuit Wednesday, but the timing was just coincidental, the DC AG says, per Reuters.
3. Decision looms on high court’s review of pipeline battle
Giphy

The Supreme Court may reveal as soon as Monday whether it will review an eminent domain lawsuit that could have big implications for natural-gas pipelines.

The big picture: The dispute, over a 120-mile pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, is one of three high-court battles representing the culmination of fights over fossil-fuel infrastructure of all kinds raging over the past decade as a proxy for a larger debate about climate change and energy.

The state of play:

  • A federal appeals court ruled in September that developers of the PennEast Pipeline couldn’t use federal law, per the 11th Amendment protecting states’ rights, to seize land controlled by the state to build the project.
  • The court said its conclusion could likely upend how interstate natural-gas pipelines have been built for 80 years. “But that is what the Eleventh Amendment demands,” the court wrote in its September 2019 decision.

The intrigue: The lawyer representing the pipeline developers suggests its odds are better than most.

  • Paul Clement, partner at Kirkland & Ellis, represented the energy companies that prevailed in a just-decided pipeline case at the Supreme Court.
  • Clement, former Solicitor General during the George W. Bush administration, is just one of three lawyers to have argued 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court (the Appalachian Trail case was his 100th).
  • Clement’s representation of a plaintiff increases the odds from 2% to nearly 25% that the Supreme Court will hear the case, according to a 2017 Villanova Law Review article.

Go deeper: Supreme Court unleashing power over pipelines, natural gas

4. Amazon remakes a green "Climate Pledge" arena

Seattle's KeyArena, on right, will be renamed the Climate Pledge Arena in summer 2021. Photo: Amy Harder/Axios

An events space in downtown Seattle will be revamped as the Climate Pledge Arena after Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced Thursday that he secured the naming rights to the venue, known now as KeyArena.

Why it matters: Developers want to make it the greenest venue in the world, so the outcome will serve as a case study for other large event spaces. It’s also the latest way Bezos, facing pressure over Amazon’s big carbon footprint, is trying to go on the offense with this issue.

The intrigue: I will be able to monitor progress on this without leaving my WFH space. I snapped the above photo after this news broke; the arena (currently called KeyArena) is on the right.

How it works:

  • The venue will be powered by 100% renewable energy (easy to do in hydropower-rich Washington state), and not use any natural gas, according to a video touting the project.
  • To incorporate all of the new green features, the arena will need to be mostly torn down. But the "original 44-million pound roof will be reused in the construction process to significantly reduce the embodied carbon of the building," an Amazon spokesperson said.

Yes, but: Some Amazon employees, along with environmental groups, have been increasingly critical of what they describe as not aggressive enough action on climate change and cloud-services deals with oil companies that counteract their climate-change rhetoric.

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Ben GemanAmy Harder