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November 04, 2020

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,233 words, 4.6 minutes.

🎧 The new episode of the Axios Today podcast is up and tells you where things stand after the chaotic and unsettled Election Day. And keep an eye on the Axios website for election coverage from our busy team.

Situational awareness: "Oil rose to the highest in a week alongside a broad market rally, drawing support from signs that OPEC+ may delay a planned output increase as well as expectations for a drop in U.S. crude supplies." (Bloomberg)

🎸And Saturday will mark the 1988 release of R.E.M.'s "Green," which provides today's achingly beautiful intro tune...

1 big thing: Climate's role in the chaotic election

Photo illustration of Joseph Biden and Donald Trump next to a globe

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sweeping conclusions are a lousy idea with so much unsettled, but anyway here's a few early takeaways from an election that featured a historically high emphasis on climate change.

What's next: While several Senate races are outstanding, Democrats face an uphill climb to regain the majority despite pickups in Colorado and Arizona, which aren't enough.

Why it matters: That means that if Biden wins the White House, his agenda will almost certainly be limited — at least for the foreseeable future — to what he can pursue using executive powers.

  • "If we see a Biden administration, it seems clean energy initiatives will be met with strong Senate opposition," Oanda analyst Edward Moya said in a note this morning.
  • And remember that sweeping regulations could land before the Supreme Court with its 6-3 conservative majority.

The big picture: Climate and energy were very much on the ballot. That's due to the huge policy chasm between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, but also how the topics surfaced repeatedly in the campaign.

  • Biden placed climate change among the four "historic crises" facing the country, and his campaign featured multiple ads about it, although he gave even more emphasis to other topics like the pandemic and the economy nonetheless.
  • Trump made fracking and attacks on Biden's posture a major part of his closing arguments in the campaign's final stretch.
  • The two presidential debates and the VP debate all featured segments on the topic, a break with past cycles.

Where it stands: An NBC exit poll found two-thirds of voters consider climate a serious problem, and Biden won 68% of them on his way to a popular vote advantage thus far.

A Morning Consult exit survey showed that 74% of Biden's voters called addressing climate change very important to their vote, compared to 19% of Trump voters.

(Yes, I know, exit polls should be taken with chunks of salt!)

Yes, but: It was pretty clear Biden's team saw some jeopardy, too.

  • Biden repeatedly emphasized that he's not looking for an outright ban on fracking, which Trump inaccurately called part of his platform.
  • I'll be curious to see how post-mortems show the topic affected things in Pennsylvania, which remains outstanding, and Texas, which Trump won again but by a narrower margin than in 2016.

Quick take: It's early, but for now, color me skeptical that we're in a new political era in which an aggressive climate platform is the ticket to a big win in our electoral college system.

What's next: Needless to say there's a lot we don't know — and not only about the outcome. I'll be watching for more detailed post-election analyses of various stripes on the effects of the Biden and Trump stances on the outcome.

Go deeper:

2. The U.S. is now out of the Paris climate deal

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Via Axios' Amy Harder...Call it the long goodbye from the Paris climate agreement.

Driving the news: President Trump’s 2017 announcement withdrawing America from the 2015 accord became official at midnight Wednesday after a prolonged process required by the United Nations.

It’s a chaotic coincidence that it comes the day after Election Day.

Where it stands: The outcome of the presidential election is still unclear this morning. If Joe Biden wins the White House, he has vowed to return to the deal.

  • Trump’s official exit from the deal would be fleeting, but America's retreat on climate change over the last four years would linger and be laborious to reverse.

The intrigue: Wednesday’s news is anticlimatic from the administration’s perspective. In Trump’s mind, he exited the deal the day he announced his intention to do so in June 2017, according to Axios’ Jonathan Swan.

  • A White House spokesperson declined to comment and referred Axios to the State Department. The department is also not expected to mark the exit in any official way.
  • The administration took the formal step to withdraw a year ago Wednesday, per UN rules.

The big picture: The United States is the only nation in the world to withdraw from the deal, which nearly all countries are a part of.

Read more

3. Filling in the blanks on the Bezos climate money

Illustration of Jeff Bezos on a hundred dollar bill

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Atlantic magazine has begun solving a big mystery in climate advocacy circles — how Jeff Bezos will spread around money from the $10 billion "Bezos Earth Fund" announced in February.

Driving the news: Robinson Meyer reports, citing anonymous sources, on the upcoming first round of grants, which are...

  • $100 million each to the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Wildlife Fund and the World Resources Institute.
  • Grants of $10 million to $50 million for the Energy Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the ClimateWorks Foundation, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Why it matters: The fund's size makes it a huge presence in climate philanthropy. And, until now, the fund has been a mysterious presence, given the dearth of info and the broad scope of funding areas.

Bezos initially said the first grants would arrive in the summer, but that came and went.

What we're watching: For the fund to roll out the grants, and more.

“This list does not reflect the complete range of organizations that the Earth Fund has been speaking with and that will be receiving grants from the fund in this initial round – stay tuned," a representative of the fund told the Atlantic (and Axios).

4. Texas contains multitudes

Data: EIA; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Data: EIA; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Texas went fairly comfortably red again, but it looked quite close for a while, and so now seems as good a time as any to look at the state's energy as well as political complexities.

The intrigue: Texas is increasingly no longer seen as only the oil patch, and it's a fascinating state to watch.

That's especially the case at a time when the future of oil demand remains a question mark and more and more countries are vowing new steps on climate — regardless of U.S. policy.

Where it stands: Oil production there has surged over the last decade (though it dropped amid the pandemic) and it's the heart of the derailed-for now-or-longer oil boom.

But as that chart above shows, Texas is also the nation's largest wind power producer — also by a lot.

Why it matters: That prominence in wind is nothing new, but its growth helps to show how the nation's oil-and-gas capital is, more and more, also a clean energy and tech hub.

What we're watching: More broadly, the state is increasingly becoming a hotbed of energy innovation.

  • Consider that Greentown Labs, the big Boston-area incubator of clean technology startups, this year chose Houston for its second location.
  • And just yesterday the big Houston-based oilfield services company announced the acquisition of the firm Compact Carbon Capture.
  • It's part of a wider movement within the oilfield services sector to expand their activities in "energy transition" overall.

The bottom line: Keep your eyes on Texas, and not just the politics.

5. The telling demise of a natural gas deal

Speaking of Texas, the French energy company Engie has reportedly scuttled a multibillion-dollar deal to import liquefied natural gas from a planned Texas facility, and this is more than a business story.

Driving the news: "Engie has decided not to proceed with commercial discussions with NextDecade on this gas supply project," the company tells S&P Global Platts, making official the demise that has been rumored for weeks.

Per multiple reports, the French government pressured Engie to scrap the deal with the Texas-based NextDecade over concerns about greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. shale gas production.

Why it matters: The decision could be a sign of how the climate footprint of different fossil fuels could become increasingly important in global trade.

Per the Wall Street Journal, the French decision is "raising alarms in the American energy industry that environmental concerns could limit the foreign market" for U.S. LNG.

It's a topic Amy Harder explored here.