🍺The weekend is rounding into view! Today's newsletter has a Smart Brevity count of 1,164 words, 4.5 minutes.

👀 Happening today: Join Axios Pro: Energy Policy reporters at 12:30pm ET for a virtual event with Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) on the next steps for implementing big energy laws. Register

🎶 This week marks 50 years since the late David Bowie released the album "Aladdin Sane," which provides today's intro tune ...

1 big thing: Why counting trees brings climate tensions

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

A new, first-of-its-kind federal census of older trees on federal lands may presage a battle over whether and how to expand forest protections, specifically as a climate policy, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: The United States contains more than 100 million acres of old-growth and mature forests on government lands, according to the tree census conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management and released Thursday.

By the numbers: The report found that old-growth forest makes up 18%, and mature forest another 45%, of all forested land under these two agencies' jurisdiction.

Zoom out: The tree count was directed by President Biden via an Executive Order issued last year.

  • Now that old-growth and mature trees have been counted, what comes next has environmentalists and climate scientists both interested and concerned.
  • The report states that the results will be used to “allow consideration of appropriate climate-informed forest management,” but does not say exactly what this means.
  • Today, old-growth and mature trees are subject to logging on certain federal lands. Moves to shield many more older trees from harvesting would encounter stiff resistance from the timber industry.

What they’re saying: “America has no shortage of public forestland, most of which is lightly managed, if it’s managed at all. Today’s inventory shows we’re not running out of mature trees,” said Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, a timber industry group, in a statement.

Between the lines: According to multiple studies, older trees continue to take in large amounts of carbon, whereas forests that are logged release significant amounts of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. That warms the planet.

  • The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, found that protecting existing forests is the “highest priority” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than relying more on post-logging land restoration.
  • William Moomaw, a professor emeritus at Tufts University's Fletcher School, said longstanding federal policies have favored removing older forests and replacing them with younger, faster-growing trees.
  • The problem, he told Axios in an interview, is that the carbon math doesn't add up. The younger trees won’t accumulate as much CO2 as is lost by the felling of the older, more carbon-rich trees.
  • “It is critically important that these identified forests on Federal lands are protected and not over-managed as an excuse to harvest more trees,” Moomaw said via email.

What’s next: The Forest Service on Thursday requested public comments ahead of proposed rule-making on how the agency should manage forests, with climate resilience in mind.

2. Biden order expands environmental justice push

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Biden will today unveil steps aimed at ensuring federal decisions consider "environmental justice," which addresses higher pollution burdens often faced by the poor and communities of color, Ben writes.

Driving the news: A new executive order will direct agencies to identify and address data and science gaps, to help better understand cumulative environmental impacts.

This will be coordinated via a new branch within the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which is headed by a cabinet-level official.

Zoom in: Other pieces, per a White House summary, include ...

  • Creating a new Office of Environmental Justice within the existing White House Council on Environmental Quality.
  • It also calls on agencies across the government to conduct new assessments of their ongoing environmental justice efforts.

What we don't know: How, if at all, the burst of new efforts will affect specific decisions, given that the Biden administration has already sought to stitch environmental justice into the fabric of federal policymaking.

Meanwhile, beyond the order, the White House is unveiling other steps.

  • One will be publication today of the first environmental justice "scorecard," which will provide a "baseline for tracking the federal government's efforts through 24 agencies," a summary states.

3. Catch up fast on EVs: Rivian, lithium, VW

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

🚗 Rivian's SUV and pickup are now on the list of vehicles qualifying for federal consumer purchase subsidies, Ben writes.

  • Why it matters: Rivian is the first EV startup with vehicles to make the cut (unless you still count Tesla as a startup).
  • Yes, but: The car maker's models only met enough qualifications for half the $7,500 credit under requirements in the climate law.
  • Catch up fast: The subsidy is based on battery component and material sourcing, final assembly in North America, and price limits.

⛏️ Chile's President Gabriel Boric plans to nationalize the lithium industry in the country with the world's largest reserves of the crucial battery material, Reuters reports.

  • Why it matters: "It poses a fresh challenge to electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers scrambling to secure battery materials," the story states.

📈 Volkswagen said Friday that Q1 deliveries of fully electric vehicles were 42% higher than the same period last year.

  • Zoom in: The automaker delivered 141,000 units to customers in the first three months of 2023, with Europe as the largest market. MarketWatch has more.

4. Checking the public pulse on energy and climate

Support for government encouragement of the following activities
Data: Pew Research Center; Chart: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios; Note: Respondents who didn’t give an answer are not shown

The public is more supportive of U.S. backing for renewables, electric vehicles and nuclear than they are fossil fuels, Ben writes.

Why it matters: New Pew Research Center polling data comes as federal officials are beginning to implement the new climate law, which is heavy on tax incentives for low- and zero-carbon sources.

The big picture: The chart above captures one finding in the wider Pew survey on energy and climate attitudes. A couple other data points ...

  • Two-thirds of U.S. adults say large companies are doing too little to address climate change.
  • 78% of Democrats call climate change a "major threat" to the U.S., compared with 23% of Republicans.
  • Huge partisan divides have persisted, going back many years.

Full survey

5. Tallying — and tackling — coal's "stranded assets" problem

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The World Bank is warning that "stranded" capital in coal-fired power plants may create "systemic risk" for low- and middle-income countries, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The finding — part of wider new analysis on transition finance — illuminates one challenge in speeding low-carbon power.

Why it matters: Slashing emissions to meet Paris Agreement goals would mean retiring many plants before the end of their multi-decade lifespans.

  • 60% of the world's fleet is less than 20 years old.
  • Coal plants will devour a big chunk of the "carbon budget" — remaining emissions before blowing past Paris — unless many are retired early.

Zoom in: Low- and middle-income nations (LICs and MICs) account for 89 percent of the estimated $1 trillion in coal assets at risk of stranding.

  • "The public sector at the national and subnational levels owns more than one-half of the capital at risk ... mostly in MICs."
  • The report explores ways to ease the jeopardy, including compensation schemes.

The big picture: The overall analysis is a "roadmap" to overcoming barriers to financing renewables and other climate-friendly sources.

  • Right now, LICs and MICs, while having the bulk of the global population, receive about a fifth of global "clean energy" investment.
  • They're in a "trap" of being "unable to afford the high up-front costs of switching to clean energy, and thus are locked into higher costs and recurring payments for fossil fuels."

What's next: The report has recommendations for scaling up concessional finance; regulatory and market reforms, and much more.

Full analysis ... Bloomberg coverage

📬 Did a friend send you this newsletter? Welcome, please sign up.

🙏 Thanks to Lisa Hornung and Javier E. David for edits to today's edition.