Axios Generate

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February 01, 2022

Hi readers! Today's Smart Brevity count is 1,308 words, 5 minutes.

🎶 Yesterday marked the 1976 release date of a Hall & Oates silky single that's today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Exxon's earnings surge amid reorganization plans

Illustration of an exxon sign with one of the x's forming an arrow going upwards
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Exxon reported $8.9 billion fourth-quarter profits and unveiled a major restructuring in developments that show its pandemic recovery and efforts to find footing in a changing landscape, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The multinational giant's quarterly and annual 2021 profits announced today — both the highest since 2014 — came on the strength of higher oil and gas prices and the energy demand recovery.

  • Overall, Exxon posted $23 billion in full-year earnings and initiated a $10 billion share buyback effort.
  • CEO Darren Woods, in a statement, touted its pandemic response, "focused investments during the down-cycle" and cost-savings that "positioned us to realize the full benefits of the market recovery in 2021."

Catch up fast: It follows yesterday's announcement of structural changes and plans to move its corporate HQ from the Dallas area to Houston.

  • Exxon's merging its chemicals and refining into one unit called the "Production Solutions," and making the "Low Carbon Solutions" unit formed a year ago into one of three formal business lines.
  • The upstream unit is the third, and they'll all be supported by a single tech and engineering division.
  • Exxon called the moves part of its wider, ongoing efforts to achieve $6 billion in corporate cost savings compared to 2019 levels.

Zoom in: Spokesman Casey Norton tells Axios that the change elevates the low carbon division and enables it to "leverage the full capabilities and scale of the corporation."

Jack Williams, a senior VP, tells Reuters it gives Exxon more flexibility to redirect investments to adjust to energy transition.

What they're saying: "Making low-carbon one of Exxon's three primary business units creates the potential for that business to grow into a more equal status over time," Andrew Logan, an oil expert with the sustainable investment advocacy group Ceres, tells Axios.

"But that's really all it represents right now — potential," Logan said via email. Logan said he's waiting to see how its low carbon budget grows and whether Exxon widens its efforts beyond carbon capture and biofuels.

The big picture: The restructuring is the latest step in Exxon's repositioning in recent years amid the pandemic and uneven financial performance even before it.

Exxon is planning $20 billion to $25 billion annually in capital investment through 2027, which are lower targets than its pre-pandemic plans.

And it's part of Exxon's — and the industry's — wider shift on climate amid activist and investor pressure.

  • Last year Exxon pledged to invest $15 billion-plus over six years in low carbon efforts, focusing on carbon capture, hydrogen and biofuels.
  • It has also been setting various new emissions targets. Some of the moves come after activist hedge fund Engine No. 1 succeeded last spring in placing three new members on Exxon's board.

2. Charting Exxon's market performance

Data: FactSet; Chart: Will Chase/Axios
Data: FactSet; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Exxon suffered huge losses in 2020 but its market performance has been on the upswing, with its stock rising 20% so far in 2022 and 70% over the past year.

3. Exclusive: New clean energy ads as part of Build Back Better push

Screenshot of an advertisement for clean energy.
Screenshot of the Climate Power ad.

The environmental group Climate Power is launching ads this week on D.C. cable and digital channels to push for Congress to invest in clean energy technologies, as a way to create jobs, Andrew writes.

Why it matters: The TV ads are part of a $3 million campaign from a coalition of environmental groups, including EDF Action, the League of Conservation Voters and NRDC Action Fund, among others, in the run-up to the State of the Union address on March 1.

Context: The ads come at the same time as moderate Democrats facing tough re-election fights are pushing for action on a climate and clean energy package stemming from the $1.2 trillion Build Back Better legislation that failed to gain enough support in the Senate.

  • On Monday, LCV hosted a virtual press briefing with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, and others to push for reviving Build Back Better in some form.
  • Lawmakers sent a letter to the White House yesterday advocating for action, and more is planned as part of this overall effort in the weeks to come.

Bonus policy notes: methane and mercury

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The Biden administration announced new efforts yesterday to curb emissions of the highly potent greenhouse gas methane, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The Interior Department said it's making $1.15 billion available to states for cleaning up abandoned oil and natural gas wells, which are a source of methane. The money comes via the bipartisan infrastructure law.

Catch up fast: It's among several steps aimed at methane from the oil and gas and agriculture sectors, including stepped-up Transportation Department efforts to crack down on pipeline leaks. CNN has more.

* * *

Power plants: "In yet another reversal of a Trump-era action, the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday it will resume enforcement of a rule that limits power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants." (Associated Press)

4. New global warming metric shows how severe it's really getting

Illustration of the earth as a steaming teakettle
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

By incorporating how increasing surface temperatures will alter both humidity and a measure of the energy contained in the atmosphere, a new study finds the world is at growing risk of extreme weather events, Andrew writes.

Driving the news: The new study, published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focuses on an integrated temperature and humidity metric.

  • The metric, researchers in China and the U.S. find, shows that as global temperatures climb, humidity and atmospheric energy do so even faster.

What they found: While unchecked emissions might bring up to 4.8°C (8.64°F) of surface warming by 2100, the study finds it could cause the integrated measure to climb by up to 12°C (21.6°F) by 2100, relative to the preindustrial era.

  • This could yield up to a 60% increase in extreme precipitation, with a 40% increase in the energy to power tropical thunderstorms.

Threat level: At the same time, the most lethal combinations of ultra-high heat and humidity, which are being seen now in parts of India, the Persian Gulf, North America and Europe, would get hotter and even more deadly, the study finds.

  • It calls this increase "debilitating," especially for vulnerable populations.

What they're saying: "It is the humidity increase accompanied by warming which makes climate changes into a climate crisis worldwide," said study co-author V. Ramanathan of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in an email.

Read the whole story.

5. BlackRock and Daimler team up on truck charging

Illustration of an electric car charging pump with a dollar bill as the prong.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

BlackRock, Daimler's U.S. division and power giant NextEra Energy are planning a joint venture to develop and deploy charging infrastructure for electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks, Ben writes.

Why it matters: Wider charging availability will be needed for electric and hydrogen-fueled trucking to become a real thing commercially, even as Daimler and other companies bring models to market.

What's next: Initial funding is slated to be $650 million divided between the companies.

"The parties plan to build a network of charging sites on critical freight routes along the east and west coasts and in Texas by 2026," the announcement states, with the first construction planned in 2023.

Bloomberg has more.

6. How your contractor could lead the EV revolution

Photo of an electric work van arriving at a home
Ford Pro Intelligence gives farmers access to important data on every vehicle, whether gas-powered or electric. Photo courtesy of Ford.

Businesses like farmers, contractors and delivery companies — not individual consumers — will lead America into the electric vehicle era, judging from how demand is currently shaping up, Axios' Joann Muller reports.

Why it matters: While consumers are waiting on the sidelines to see if the charging infrastructure improves and prices fall, commercial businesses see EVs as a way to boost their productivity and improve operations.

  • EV fleets connected to the cloud are like distributed computer networks — chock full of data, which is good for business.

Driving the news: A new offering from Ford Motor gives businesses a bigger incentive to go electric with their commercial fleets.

  • Ford Pro Intelligence, announced last week, is a cloud-based software platform with tools to help business customers keep track of their vehicles, manage their drivers and improve relationships with their customers.
  • With it, Ford is doubling down on its already lucrative commercial fleet business, which includes its new line of electric F-150 Lightning pickup trucks and its e-Transit vans.

Read the whole story.