Oct 23, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,171 words, < 5 minutes.

Breaking: "The Trump administration filed suit Wednesday to shut down California’s emissions-trading market designed to limit air pollution, claiming it is unconstitutional because one of the participants is the Canadian province of Quebec," the Wall Street Journal reports.

And on this date in 1972, Al Green released "I'm Still In Love With You," which provides today's all-timer of an intro tune...

1 big thing: Tesla returns to the spotlight

Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Silicon Valley electric automaker will report its Q3 earnings after markets close today.

Why it matters: Tesla is struggling to turn the corner to profitability, even though the Model 3 is by far the best-selling EV in the U.S. More broadly, the company is an important player in pushing EVs closer to the mainstream.

The big picture: Delivering more cars — and Tesla already announced a record quarter on that front — isn't yet a recipe for financial health, especially as the lower margin Model 3 is increasingly its dominant product.

Flashback: Tesla reported a net loss of $408 million in Q2. CEO Elon Musk said at the time that he expects to be "around breakeven" in Q3 and profitable in Q4.

Where it stands: Per MarketWatch, analysts polled by FactSet predict an adjusted loss of 46 cents per share. And they also report that for "the first time in more than a decade, Tesla is looking at a year-over-year dip in quarterly revenue."

What we're watching: Beyond the numbers, Tesla-watchers will have an ear out for updates on vehicles still in development, including the semi-truck and the Model Y crossover slated for production next year.

  • "The company will also likely provide an update on whether the pickup truck is still expected to launch next month, following a series of delays," CNBC reports.
  • Tesla's expansion into China, the world's biggest auto market, will also be in focus. "Tesla ... is conducting trial production runs at its new $2 billion China factory for the past several weeks and will sell some of the first cars from the plant to its employees," Reuters reported Wednesday morning.
2. Big Oil's courtroom drama on global warming

Two big things happened yesterday in the legal fight over Big Oil and global warming.

Driving the news part 1: Attorneys for ExxonMobil and New York state drew battle lines in the opening day of the state Supreme Court trial over whether Exxon misled investors and the public about how climate regulations could affect its business.

  • What they're saying: “The company failed to manage the risks in the ways it promised,” said Kevin Wallace, an attorney with the New York attorney general's office, per AP. “The cost of that failure is staggering.”
  • Their story also looks at how Exxon sought to rebut the claims. "Attorney Ted Wells said ... that former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson created a robust, effective system to account for increasing climate regulations in 2007," AP reports, noting he said the company did "absolutely nothing wrong."

Driving the news part 2: "The [U.S.] Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request from more than two dozen multinational energy companies to block a state court lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore seeking to hold the companies accountable for their role in changing the earth’s climate," the New York Times reports.

  • Why it matters: The move allows a sprawling, state-level series of legal battles to proceed for now at a time when powerful companies want them moved into the federal system.
  • Where it stands: "The high court denied applications from BP Plc, Chevron Corp., Suncor Energy Inc., Exxon Mobil Corp., and other companies seeking to freeze proceedings in high-stakes cases from Baltimore, Rhode Island, and Colorado municipalities that accuse the industry of creating a public nuisance by producing and selling planet-warming fossil fuels," Bloomberg Law reports.
3. A crude oil inflection point
Screenshot: EIA's report on crude oil exports

The U.S. is now exporting crude oil to more nations than it's importing from, the Energy Information Administration said in a new analysis out Tuesday.

Why it matters: The inflection point highlights the U.S. emergence as a crude export powerhouse and falling import reliance thanks to the domestic production surge.

Where it stands: In the first seven months of the year, the U.S. imported crude from a maximum of 27 nations in a given month, compared to as many as 37 a decade earlier, per EIA.

  • Meanwhile, during the same stretch of 2019, the number export destinations rose as high as 31.
  • U.S. crude oil exports averaged 2.9 million barrels per day during the first half of 2019, according to EIA monthly data.
  • More recent (although less robust) weekly data shows them trending even higher.
4. Senate duo forms new climate group

Two senators are launching a new ad-hoc group aimed at fostering bipartisan cooperation on climate change.

Driving the news: Democrat Chris Coons and Republican Mike Braun are launching a Senate Climate Solutions Caucus, per multiple reports. The Washington Examiner writes that Republican Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will join the effort.

The big picture: Coons, in remarks to NBC News, laid out some areas of potential cooperation. "Bipartisan ideas already exist — from improving energy efficiency and investing in R&D to supporting energy security and workforce development," he said.

Quick take: The formation comes on the heels of a fresh reminder that while modest agreements may be possible, Democrats face massive hurdles if they seek to advance sweeping legislation to sharply cut emissions.

  • Last week Democrats fell far short in their effort to thwart EPA's decision to scrap Obama-era carbon emissions regulations for power plants — a vote that saw three conservative Democrats vote with the GOP.

What they're saying: "The Democratic defections underscore our view that even if Democrats take the Senate and White House in 2020, the need for moderate support within their caucus will force them to temper their most aggressive environmental policy ambitions to have any chance at passage," Rapidan Energy Group said in a note last week.

5. Nissan unveils electric crossover concept

Nissan Ariya Concept. Courtesy of Nissan

Nissan unveiled its Ariya electric crossover concept at the Tokyo Motor Show today.

Why it matters: SUVs and crossovers are immensely popular, so new electrified offerings tend to catch my attention.

But, but, but: It's unclear when it might join Nissan's nearly decade-old Leaf EV as a mass-market product.

  • "[T]he crossover EV's bold styling and unconventional interior and exterior elements could make it into production in the near future," Nissan said in a release.
  • Car and Driver reports that it's a "a close preview of the production car that could arrive as soon as next year."

The intrigue: The company's announcement offered no information on expected range or price. But Automotive News reported last month that they've been previewing a crossover EV to dealers with a 300-mile range (h/t Engadget).

Go deeper: Nissan Ariya Concept previews the Leafmaker's new electric SUV (CNET)

6. Quote of the day
"We're all living here, so we must have some impact."

Who said it: Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, responding in writing to climate change questions from senators vetting his nomination in 2017. He used the same phrasing during his confirmation hearing that year.

Why it matters: President Trump is nominating the former auto industry and telecom lobbyist to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Between the lines: With "some impact," Brouillette is among many Trump officials who break with the consensus scientific view that human activity is the overwhelming driver of warming.

  • A major, multi-agency report in late 2017, crafted with outside scientists, found that "human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century."

What's next: Brouillette's written answers also said: "I look forward to getting a better understanding of the dynamics."

  • As Brouillette's formal nomination moves through the Senate, look for his views to come under deeper scrutiny.
Ben GemanAmy Harder