Nov 5, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning, did you catch "Axios on HBO" last night at 6:30? 

My latest Harder Line column, with special guest co-author Andrew Freedman, our science editor, reality checks the comments that President Trump made on climate change in an interview for "Axios on HBO."

I'll share a glimpse of that, and then Ben Geman will guide you through the rest of today's news. 

1 big thing: Trump waves off climate scientists
"Axios on HBO" via giphy

When “Axios on HBO” interviewed Trump last week, one goal was to get him to reckon with his own government’s scientific findings, which unequivocally state that global warming is nearly entirely caused by humans.

We thought it might be harder to dismiss the science if we showed him his own administration's most comprehensive report.

Why it matters: We were wrong. Trump disputed that report, said he hadn’t seen it and indicated that the climate goes up and down.

These comments, the first on this report, are among the most extreme he’s made dismissing a scientific issue nearly all other world leaders take seriously.

The intrigue: Trump was shown a copy of the National Climate Assessment, a federally mandated report the Trump administration released without fanfare, or interference, last November. He dismissed it and said he didn't read it.

“Is there climate change? Yeah. Will it go back like this, I mean will it change back? Probably,” Trump said, making a wave motion with his hand.

Reality check: The report is the most comprehensive and up-to-date assessment published by the entire federal government, from NASA to the EPA. It concludes that "there is no convincing alternative explanation" for the global warming observed, other than human causes.

  • It also concludes that only steep reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can alter the upward trajectory of air and ocean temperatures and their related impacts.
  • The president has not repeated his often-cited 2012 Twitter comment that he thinks climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese, but he is still far outside the mainstream of scientists and other world leaders.

Click here to read more reality checks of what Trump said in the interview.

What's next: Trump is unlikely to change his tune on climate change while in the White House, but not all Republicans share his position. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican incumbent in Florida, readily acknowledges climate change and has even introduced carbon tax legislation.

  • He's considered an early indicator of how the GOP is evolving, but he may not be in Congress much longer. He's locked in a tight re-election race, and odds are, he'll lose.
2. Zero hour for Iran oil sanctions

U.S. sanctions against Iranian oil exports are now officially in effect and oil markets ... basically shrugged.

Where it stands: Prices this morning show Brent barely moving off prices that have tumbled sharply in recent weeks, trading at $73.11. This reflects how the reductions in Iranian exports have been ongoing and are largely priced into the market.

  • Traders are also responding to Friday's announcement of temporary waivers granted to 8 countries — reportedly including South Korea, India and China — that buy Iranian oil, but according to the State Department have moved to curb imports.

What they're saying: “The impact of the sanctions is going to be largely softened as a result of this allowance,” Surfeit Vijayakar of the energy consultancy Trisect tells Reuters.

  • In addition, bearish forces like potentially softening demand growth and U.S.-China trade tensions are affecting the price (we looked more deeply at the state of the market in Friday's edition).

What's next: Iranian exports have fallen by about a million barrels per day in the run-up to the formal reimposition. The consultancy Wood Mackenzie, in a note Monday morning, said that even though some other producers have stepped up production, the market could get a lot tighter in coming months as sanctions continue driving down exports.

  • “We think there’s just enough growth in supply from elsewhere to muddle through the next few months, meet winter demand and avert a price spike," said WoodMac's Ann-Louise Hittle.
  • She notes that OPEC's spare capacity that can be brought online within 30 days is only about 700,000 barrels per day. “That means the market is vulnerable to strong demand in a cold winter or any new supply outage," she said.

Go deeper: Bloomberg reports here on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's defense of the temporary waivers and criticism from some Capitol Hill Republicans.

3. On my screen: Looking at tomorrow's energy user

What will be the power and mobility experience of a child born roughly now?

Place your bets: Shayle Kann, SVP at Energy Impact Partners, has an engaging look at the question in a recently published presentation. He makes a few "bets" about the future experience of his colleague's soon-to-be born daughter, nicknamed "Bug."

The big picture: He's betting the adult Bug will inhabit an America where...

  • She probably won't own a car, thanks to the rise of (increasingly electrified) shared-mobility and alternative options.
  • Her home surroundings will be largely voice-connected (including energy management).
  • By the time she shops for her own groceries, more than a fifth of her produce will have been grown indoors.
  • Increasingly electrification of transit, agriculture and other industries means by the time she's 30, electricity's share of total energy consumption will more than double.
  • By the time Bug enters her sophomore year in high school, more than half her power will come from renewables.

One level deeper: Here are a couple of Kann's observations...

  • Transportation: "While I don’t think Bug will ever drive a car, I do think she’ll drive a scooter. Literally over the past 18 months, we’ve seen the introduction of shared, dockless e-scooters, which are so far being adopted far faster than any other mode of transportation in history." (Emphasis added.)
  • Food: Kann notes that his firm has counted over 50 startups focused on indoor agriculture, which he notes can bring lots of potential benefits. "No need for pesticides, dramatically lower water usage, high-density yields in land constrained areas, low transport and shipping costs."

Worthy of your time.

4. SCOTUS thwarts Trump on climate suit

Protestors outside the U.S. Supreme Court Oct. 29. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Supreme Court late Friday denied the Trump administration's attempt to halt a novel climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans against the federal government, Andrew reports.

The suit alleges the government, through its longstanding energy policies, deprived the plaintiffs of the right to "a climate system capable of sustaining human life," among other harms.

Why it matters: The case, which has been winding its way through the federal court system for 3 years and has survived multiple attempts by the Justice Department to squash it, was due to go to trial on Oct. 29 before the Supreme Court declared a temporary stay. The plaintiffs have filed a motion in U.S. District Court to call for an immediate start to the delayed trial.

The plaintiffs in the case are seeking for the courts to order the federal government to swiftly enact policies to cut human-caused GHG emissions, which are the main driver of global warming, and to take other actions to reduce climate change. The legal advocacy organization Our Children's Trust brought the case on behalf of the plaintiffs.

  • The Trump administration has objected to the sweeping and "unprecedented legal theories" claimed in the case. The government contends that a court ruling in this case could usurp the role of Congress and federal agencies in setting national energy and environmental policies.

Between the lines: In deciding to let the case proceed, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that the government can seek to have the case halted through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. That court has denied previous attempts to stop the case before trial.

Go deeper: Read Andrew's full piece in the Axios stream.

5. Tesla wades into tidal energy

The Scottish tidal energy developer Nova Innovation has teamed up with Tesla to demonstrate the world’s first tidal energy storage system, writes Axios Expert Voices contributor David Hume.

Tesla is no stranger to the renewable energy market, but this is the company’s first foray into tidal energy.  

Why it matters: While this is a relatively small-scale project for a national grid, it could have big implications for coastal microgrid designs if it proves successful. The integration of technologies that can produce tidal energy with those that can store it makes a powerful combination, potentially providing consistent and reliable baseload power from a renewable energy source.

The background: Unlike wind or solar, tidal energy is extremely predictable. The tides are known with strong accuracy years, and even decades, in advance. But like solar and wind, tides are not constant; the speed at which the tides ebb and flow is constantly changing in a sinusoidal pattern, repeated roughly every 6 hours.

Go deeper: Read Hume's full piece in the Axios stream.

Hume is a contractor supporting the marine renewable energy portfolio at the U.S. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office and the founder of The Liquid Grid. The views expressed are his own.

6. Group pushing CO2 tax adds staff and fellows

The Climate Leadership Council is adding some new faces as it pushes for a carbon tax.

Why it matters: The addition of new staff and research fellows signals how the group is seeking traction for what's now an extraordinarily longshot proposal. Per CLC, the new additions are:

  • Carlton Carroll, formerly of the American Petroleum Institute, is named VP of communications. Carroll, who also worked in the George W. Bush White House, will be overseeing strategic communications, media relations, and digital media.
  • Julio Friedmann, a former DOE official with expertise on technologies to trap and store carbon, will be a senior research fellow. He's currently CEO of Carbon Wrangler and leads a carbon management research effort at Columbia University’s Center for Global Energy Policy.
  • Environmental law expert Michael Gerrard, who is the Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia Law School, is a senior research fellow.
  • The third new senior research fellow is international relations professor David Victor, an energy expert with the UC San Diego who is also co-chair of the Cross-Brookings Initiative on Energy and Climate at The Brookings Institution.

The big picture: The group — and a recently launched lobbying spinoff — is pushing a plan that would:

  • Impose an escalating carbon tax that begins at $40-per-ton.
  • Return the revenues to the public.
  • Pare back federal climate regulations and shield fossil fuel companies from tort claims on climate.
Ben GemanAmy Harder