Mar 29, 2017

Axios Generate

Ben Geman

Good morning and welcome back to Generate. I didn't attend President Trump's high-profile appearance at the EPA to sign his big executive order on energy and climate. Why? I hung around outside instead. More on that in a moment, but first, are you getting all of our newsletters yet? They're fun and smart (and free!) reads on health care, tech, politics, business and more. You can sign up easily here. Ok, let's dive in . . .

Trump ruffles feathers with EPA visit and executive order

Yesterday, EPA employees got a memo from Administrator Scott Pruitt's chief of staff ahead of President Trump's arrival to sign the executive order rolling back Obama-era climate change and energy policies.

  • "This is an important moment for the EPA," Ryan Jackson said in the email memo (subject line: "Our Big Day Today") that explained options for viewing the event. It conveyed Pruitt's view that "we do not have to choose between environmental protection and economic development."

But outside EPA's big downtown headquarters, I spoke with a number of career staff who hardly shared the rah-rah vibe as Trump seeks to undo major EPA rules and slash its budget deeply.

  • One called it "tone deaf" to unveil the executive order aimed at repealing climate measures at the agency (most orders are signed at the White House). "No one is excited about him being here, it's very discouraging," this staffer said, saying that colleagues are "horrified" by the event.
  • A longtime EPA attorney said that even if Trump has policy differences with what the agency has been doing, the in-person appearance "feels cruel" as Trump seeks to dismantle things that "people have spent their lives and careers working for."
  • One longtime staff member in EPA's Office of Water, which issued a big regulation that an earlier order has begun unwinding, said both the proposed budget cuts and the policy choices are on the minds of workers. "One hits home and one hits your profession and what you believe in," this staff member said.

Why it matters: This admittedly unscientific survey reveals how Trump's efforts to undo Obama's legacy are cutting against the grain at the agency. Undoing rules is a careful and time-consuming bureaucratic slog, so resistance among career staff to the Trump-Pruitt agenda could complicate the effort even further.

  • "The action I'm taking today will eliminate federal overreach and allow our workers to thrive, compete and succeed on a level playing field for first time in a long time," Trump said.

Flashback: If you want more on the substance and impact of the executive order — which was signed by Trump flanked by coal miners, Pruitt, Energy secretary Rick Perry, Interior secretary Ryan Zinke and VP Mike Pence — we have you covered here and here.

Meltdown: Westinghouse files Chapter 11

Nuclear reactor giant Westinghouse Electric Co. filed for bankruptcy early Wednesday morning amid cost overruns and delays at reactor projects in Georgia and South Carolina.

  • This is grim: "The filing comes as the company's corporate parent, Toshiba of Japan, scrambles to stanch huge losses stemming from Westinghouse's troubled nuclear construction projects in the American South. Now, the future of those projects, which once seemed to be on the leading edge of a renaissance for nuclear energy, is in doubt," the New York Times reports.
Tech giant’s Tesla play

As Axios reported yesterday, the big Chinese tech company Tencent Holdings bought 5 percent of Silicon Valley electric automaker Tesla, Inc.

Why it matters: The $1.8 billion stake in Tesla gives the powerful Chinese company "another foothold in a growing industry" and gives Tesla a "much needed" cash infusion as it prepares to launch its Model 3 sedan, the Los Angeles Times reports.

  • It also matters because: Tencent could help Tesla set up a manufacturing operation in China, the Wall Street Journal points out. It could help Tesla in the Chinese market overall, where the automaker's sales already tripled to over $1 billion last year, Recode notes.
Lightning round

Energy storage: Deployment of storage tech is taking off, according to new data from GTM Research, which finds that 21 states have 20 megawatts of projects either proposed, in construction, or completed.

  • Why it matters: Falling costs and a flowering of state-level policies are driving the expansion of power storage technologies that help bring more solar and wind energy into the electricity system.

Exxon's Paris play: In case you missed it in the Axios stream yesterday, Exxon is urging the Trump administration not to abandon the Paris climate change accord, a pitch that comes as the White House is grappling with its approach.

  • Why it matters: Support for sticking with Paris from the likes of Exxon and ConocoPhillips highlights a divide between some powerful energy companies and conservative activists who want Trump to make good on his campaign pledge to abandon the deal.

New gig for familiar name: Eben Burnham-Snyder, previously an aide to Sen. Ed Markey and former Energy secretary Ernest Moniz, is the new VP for communications at the liquefied natural gas company Cheniere Energy. Congrats Eben!

Lobbying news: Berkshire Hathaway Energy Co. has tapped Steptoe & Johnson to lobby on the wind energy production tax credit. The refiner Valero Energy has hired Daryl Owen Associates to lobby on the Renewable Fuel Standard and other topics.

​What's happening Wednesday

Trump's energy plan: Interior secretary Zinke will hold a conference call with reporters to talk about lifting the Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands and other "energy initiatives."

  • What we're watching for: signs of how and when Zinke may move to rewrite Obama's offshore oil-and-gas plans and policies that put the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans off-limits to new leases.

Climate change: A House Science Committee hearing will look at the state of climate science, a gathering that includes GOP-invited researchers who break with the scientific mainstream on the scope and impact of human-induced global warming.

Energy policy: A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will dive into energy tax policy as Congress prepares to enter into a huge tax reform battle.

Ben Geman

Thanks for reading! I'll see you all tomorrow morning, and in the meantime please check out the Axios stream for more coverage, and of course a standing reminder: tips and feedback are always welcome at ben@axios.com.