Apr 1, 2021

Axios Generate

Good morning! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,175 words, 4.4 minutes.

🎶 And today marks the 1987 release of Suzanne Vega's album "Solitude Standing," which has today's beautiful intro tune...

1 big thing: Takeaways from Biden's climate bill

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The White House decided to go big or go home in proposing a more than $2.2 trillion bill that, if enacted, would be the most far-reaching climate legislation ever adopted by the U.S., Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • Here are some key takeaways from the proposal, which will need to be turned into legislative language in the House and Senate.

1) The White House has three goals it's trying to address:

  • Slash greenhouse gas emissions from multiple economic sectors, particularly transportation.
  • Address longstanding racial and economic disparities between the communities that reap the benefits of research and development, and those that experience the scourge of pollution.
  • Generate what it claims will be tens of thousands of well-paying, union jobs.

2) Biden wants lawmakers to forget the price tag. Climate scientists and economists agree that failing to slash emissions and limit the severity of global warming will be even more costly.

  • A 2018 federal climate report found that by the end of the century, global warming could cost the U.S. 10% of its gross domestic product if emissions were to continue on a business as usual trajectory.
  • “Climate change is going to impact our economy in deeper and deeper ways each year,” said Josh Freed of Third Way, a centrist group.

3) But we don't know the whole price tag. The White House summary lists hundreds of billions in energy and transit provisions.

But the White House confirmed those tallies don't include costs of the plan's new and expanded tax credits for clean energy, transmission and more.

4) There is no carbon pricing scheme, such as a carbon tax or cap and trade system. Pricing's absence shows how those programs have lost cachet on the left and still face stiff GOP resistance.

5) Biden sees an upside to framing this bill around the need to compete with China, which could attract more support.

  • His speech in Pittsburgh mentioned "climate" just once explicitly, instead focusing on creating well-paying jobs through innovation.
Bonus: What they're saying about Biden's path ahead

This could be a long slog on Capitol Hill, given Republican opposition to another big spending package and divisions among Democrats over specific provisions.

"If we act now, in 50 years people are going to look back and say, this was the moment that America won the future," Biden said.

Leah Stokes, a political scientist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, tells Axios that the proposal is an "opening bid."

  • The provisions, she said, demonstrate “a big appetite for taking on this crisis at a scale that’s necessary to avert even bigger consequences through climate disasters."

And Matt Piotrowski, director of policy and research at Climate Advisers, said Biden has a tough task ahead of him in trying to find enough support for this plan.

  • "Biden is trying to walk a fine line here. As a starting point, I think he is doing a good job. Whether he can sell this enough to make it pass is an open question."
2. Oil giant confab: Granholm talks to Saudi minister

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm spoke yesterday with Saudi energy minister Abdulaziz bin Salman, Granholm revealed via Twitter late last night.

Driving the news: Granholm said they discussed the importance of cooperation on "affordable and reliable" energy.

They talked about working more together around renewables, efficiency, clean hydrogen, and cutting methane emissions, she said.

Why it matters: Bloomberg points out the call happened on the eve of today's OPEC+ meeting about the future of the group's joint production curbs.

The U.S.-Saudi call adds "another element of uncertainty into the group’s decision on production cuts," it reports.

The big picture: The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia are the world's three largest oil producers.

3. The countries most vulnerable to global warming

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

HSBC Global Research analysts are taking an increasingly granular look at which nations are the most and least resilient to climate change.

The big picture: A report this week ranked 77 countries on their capacity to adapt, shift away from fossil fuels, and benefit from growing cleantech markets.

  • The top 5 most resilient countries in their analysis are Sweden, France, Finland, Germany and the U.S.
  • The five most vulnerable are Nigeria, Bangladesh, CĂ´te d’Ivoire, Tanzania and Tunisia.

Why it matters: It's no secret that global warming will hit poorer nations harder.

  • But HSCB ranks nations based on a very extensive matrix of vulnerabilities and opportunities. The analysis is based on nearly 50 indicators and 0ver 90 data points.
  • They are grouped in categories around temperature and other climatic conditions; food systems; fossil fuel dependence and revenues from low-carbon tech; wealth and inequality levels; governance and more.

The intrigue: HSBC has done versions of this report before.

But the new iteration uses a dozen expanded criteria like biodiversity, gender equality, land elevation, minerals needed for clean energy and, ominously, hospital beds.

Yes, but: While the rankings are important, the report also cautions that just looking at the top and bottom of the list can mask many important factors.

  • To take just a couple of examples, it notes that Qatar and Bahrain experienced the highest average annual temperatures at 28.4ËšC and 28.3ËšC."
  • In the U.S., meanwhile, the number of people affected by extreme weather is rising, they note.
4. Where Biden's starting on emissions cuts...
Reproduced from Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

The chart above helps reveal the big challenge the White House faces as it promotes sweeping plans to steeply cut U.S. emissions this decade — and works to convince other countries it'll happen.

The big picture: As you can see, electricity sector emissions have been on a general downward trend as natural gas and renewables have shoved aside coal.

  • But reaching 100% carbon-free power by 2035 — a major pillar of Biden's agenda — is another matter entirely.
  • And until COVID-19 sent emissions down for tragic reasons, trends in other sectors were largely flat or moving up, per Rhodium Group data.

What we're watching: The Washington Post reports that top White House climate aides will meet today with the Edison Electric Institute, a big lobbying group for investor-owned utilities.

  • Biden's plan calls for a federal "clean electricity standard" — a mandate aimed at greatly expanding zero-carbon generation.
  • But its prospects in Congress are highly uncertain.
5. ...and notes on his plan to "win the EV market"

One part of Biden's economic proposal are plans to invest heavily in U.S. electric vehicle initiatives, including "point of sale rebates and tax incentives to buy American-made" EVs.

Why it matters: One barrier to EV adoption are often higher upfront costs. Once they have the vehicle, fuel costs are much lower, as the chart above shows. (And you can check out the fuel price assumptions it's based on here.)

Catch up fast: Current policy provides a $7,500 tax credit for buying EVs, but it's capped at 200,000 per automaker before dropping steeply and then vanishing.

Tesla and GM both reached the cap a while ago.

Where it stands: Automakers and their allies are pushing for greatly expanding those incentives and creating new ones

For instance, the Zero Emission Transportation Association is calling for eliminating the per-manufacturer cap and extending incentives to used EV sales.

Go deeper: Biden’s Push for Electric Cars: $174 Billion, 10 Years and a Bit of Luck (New York Times)

6. Catch up fast: Apple, World Bank, shale

Batteries: “Apple announced Wednesday that it’s building a big battery storage project at a Northern California solar farm it spearhead[ed] in 2015. But what the company didn’t share is that the battery packs will come from Tesla.” (The Verge)

Finance: “A revised World Bank policy on climate change commits to making financing decisions in line with efforts to limit global warming, but stops short of promising to halt funding of fossil fuels, according to a draft bank presentation.” (Reuters)

Oil-and-gas: U.S. shale oil production is set to decline through at least 2022 as explorers resist the temptation to start drilling again despite a rally in crude prices, according to a BloombergNEF analysis. (Bloomberg)