Axios Generate

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November 17, 2020

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity: 1,276 words, 5 minutes.

🚨Join Axios today at 12:30pm ET for our second 'Hard Truths" event on systemic racism, featuring National Education Association president Becky Pringle, Indigenous education advocate Rain Marshall, and EdBuild CEO Rebecca Sibilia. Register here. 

🎶And this weekend brings the birthday of Steven Van Zandt, who wrote a blistering, vital piece of music 35 years ago that's today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Corporate heavyweights ramp up EV push

Illustration of lightbulb with a car filament
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new coalition is launching — with Tesla, Uber, power giants like Southern Company, and others — that will push for electric models to account for 100% of new U.S. vehicle sales by 2030.

Why it matters: While EVs are a growing technology, new corporate lobbying efforts — especially by powerful companies — could help spur faster growth in what remains a largely niche market.

Driving the news: The Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA) unveiled today brings together over 25 corporate members representing several industries.

  • Members also include Duke Energy, Piedmont Lithium, charging companies like ChargePoint and EVgo, and EV startups like Arrival and Lucid Motors.

The big picture: The group will push for "national policies that will enable 100% electric vehicle sales throughout the light-, medium-, and heavy-duty sectors by 2030."

  • "By embracing EVs, federal policymakers can help drive innovation, create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and improve air quality and public health,” executive director Joe Britton, a former Democratic Senate aide, said in a statement.

Where it stands: Policy goals include...

  • Expanded incentives, which means not only lifting the per-manufacturer cap on the $7,500 consumer tax credit, but also making it a "point of sale" rebate. Other goals include a program to incentivize trade-ins of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.
  • Federal emissions and efficiency performance standards that will send the "correct market signals" for faster EV deployment by the auto industry.
  • New federal infrastructure investments and support for domestic manufacturing, and support for local pro-EV policies.

What they're saying: Britton tells me the group intends to lobby in its own right and also wield influence through members' existing relationships with policymakers.

  • ZETA is not pushing for a national zero-emissions vehicle mandate, or ban on sales of new internal combustion vehicles (something California officials want by 2035), he says.

Quick take: Their 2030 goal is an immensely heavy lift, given that EVs are currently a very small percentage of vehicles sales and cars on the road.

  • Large new consumer incentives or a trade-in program are likely to be steep uphill battles on Capitol Hill.
  • But an economic recovery package could include new support for EV infrastructure.
  • And look for the Biden administration to toughen emissions standards using its executive powers.

Bonus chart: Very long road to EV dominance

Data: IEA's "Global EV Outlook 2020"; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: IEA's "Global EV Outlook 2020"; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. electric vehicle use is rising, but that's from a very small base, as this data from the International Energy Agency shows.

By the numbers: Per Transportation Department data, as of 2018 there were over 111 million passenger cars registered in the U.S., and over 270 million vehicles overall when you include trucks, buses and so forth.

The big picture: On a worldwide basis, BloombergNEF sees EVs growing to 58% of new passenger car sales worldwide by 2040, when they will represent 31% of cars on the road.

2. The fast phase of the slow Arctic fight

Polar bear crossing the frozen Beaufort Sea in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska
Beaufort Sea in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo: Patrick Endres/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Today the Interior Department is publishing a formal solicitation for tracts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to lease for oil drilling.

Driving the news: The bureaucratic timelines — starting with a 30-day comment period — mean that an actual auction of drilling rights could occur just a few days before Joe Biden's inauguration.

Why it matters: Completing a sale would create more facts on the ground and make it more difficult for Biden, who opposes drilling in the Alaskan preserve, to thwart the effort.

The big picture: Lease sales are required under a 2017 GOP-crafted bill that authorized leasing after a decadeslong battle over the region.

  • But as we've reported here, Biden has several levers he can pull to slow down the process, even though his efforts would be challenged in court.

What they're saying: A ClearView Energy Partners note points out that slowing things down — via steps like new climate reviews of permitting, to name just one — could effectively be a lasting win for opponents.

Between the lines: That has a lot to do with where things stand with oil markets. Per ClearView...

  • "[W]e would ... contend that 'slow' can function much like 'no' on a present-value basis, particularly during an era of low demand and high investor expectations for capital discipline."
  • "Thus, for the Biden Administration, a series of slow losses — and all the uncertainty that repeated slow-walking and court proceedings might create — could be tantamount to a win (big spenders have left the Arctic empty-handed in the past)."

Go deeper: Trump administration takes final steps to auction drilling rights in Arctic Wildlife Refuge (WSJ)

3. Big Oil presses SCOTUS on litigation venues

Illustration of the Earth in a set of scales.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A bunch of huge oil companies told the Supreme Court in a new brief that state and local climate lawsuits against them belong in the federal court system.

Why it matters: The brief addresses the city of Baltimore's litigation seeking damages for climate-related harms — but it's relevant to roughly a dozen similar lawsuits nationwide that plaintiffs want litigated in state courts.

What they're saying: Lawyers for BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell and others say Baltimore is seeking damages based on interstate and international emissions over many decades.

  • "Those claims fall squarely within the long line of cases holding that federal common law governs claims seeking redress for interstate air and water pollution," they write.
  • They argue the cases address "federal interest in setting domestic and foreign policy on matters involving energy, the environment, and the economy."

The intrigue: The procedural case, which SCOTUS agreed to take last month, doesn't directly tackle the substance of damage claims from cities and states.

  • Instead it turns on technical questions about defendants' ability to challenge decisions that sent cases back to state courts.
  • But that's super important to future battles over the substance!
  • Bloomberg Law's Ellen Gilmer points out that "federal courts are seen as more favorable to industry defendants."

What we're watching: Moves by the incoming Biden administration.

  • UCLA law professor Ann Carlson, who consults pro bono with plaintiffs suing oil companies, notes that the Justice Department has sided with the industry defendants on jurisdictional questions.
  • "The Trump Administration was actively supporting the oil company arguments in court," Carlson said via email.
  • "A Biden DOJ could (and in my view likely would) back away from these arguments and could even support the municipal and state plaintiffs."

4. Why Tesla's index milestone matters

An illustration of Elon Musk next to a bull.
Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Axios' Courtenay Brown reports: Tesla will join the S&P 500, which is the main benchmark of the stock market, the index's committee said on Monday.

Why it matters: The move opens Tesla up to a massive investor base: roughly $11 trillion worth of investment funds that track the index. Its stock is up around 12% in pre-market trading following the news.

Where it stands: After years of ineligibility, one of the most valuable U.S. companies by market cap — and the world's most valuable automaker — will be the S&P 500's biggest new member ever.

  • Tesla would be the 10th biggest S&P 500 component, ahead of Johnson & Johnson.
  • The company's stock jumped 11% in post-market trading after the news hit.

Catch up fast: Tesla met the final requirement for eligibility — four consecutive quarters of profitability — when it reported its Q2 results in July.

  • Courtenay has more here.

What they're saying: "Clearly this is a key positive for shares and indexing purposes and ultimately removes another question mark around the Tesla story going forward," Wedbush analysts said in a note, per CNN.

Yes, but: University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon tells Reuters there could be a "downside" for conservative index investors.

  • “(Monday’s) price jump means the retirees and other individual investors who put their money into index funds will see some of their money go into Tesla stock at a price even higher than its controversially high pre-S&P price."

5. Number of the day: $791 million

That's the cumulative size of the first grants announced yesterday from the $10 billion “Bezos Earth Fund” that Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos first unveiled early this year.

Why it matters: It’s a lot of money in the climate philanthropy world.

  • The $791 million is spread across 16 organizations, including $100 million grants to a handful of the largest established green groups like the Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund.
  • "Bezos ... also bestowed money on groups concerned with environmental justice, including Dream Corps’ Green For All, the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, and the Solutions Project," the Washington Post reports.