Feb 24, 2020

Axios Generate

Good morning and welcome back! Did you miss us? Today's Smart Brevity: 1,302 words, 5 minutes.

Situational Awareness: Catch the new season of “Axios on HBO” Sundays at 6 p.m. ET/PT, starting March 1!

My latest Harder Line column is a dispatch from Port Saint Lucie, Florida, where I talked with swing voters about the environment and climate change. I'll share a glimpse, and then Ben Geman will get you up to speed on other news.

1 big thing: These swing voters dislike Trump’s rollbacks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Swing voters in four battleground states decisively oppose President Trump’s sweeping rollbacks of environmental regulations — but it’s unlikely to sway their votes.

Why it matters: Voters living in these states — Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Michigan — fill pivotal roles in electing America’s presidents.

  • Comments from focus groups of nearly three dozen swing voters suggest they have real concerns over the environment and the effects of climate change — but also that they don't like any 2020 Democrat enough to abandon Trump.

What they’re saying: Kathy, a 62-year-old Floridian, lamented the toxic algae blooms afflicting waterways in the area, including the nearby town of Stuart.

  • Although she didn't blame Trump for that algae, she indicated it made her aware of the importance of environmental protection, which she says Trump isn't prioritizing.
  • “Go out here to Stuart, and drink some of the water out of the canal and see what happens to you,” Kathy told me after a recent focus group in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. “Dogs are dying from that water.”

The big picture: These positions put Florida’s swing voters squarely in line with national polling.

  • A Washington Post-ABC poll from last summer found voters measured Trump most negatively on climate change, while this AP poll from September found two-thirds of voters disapproved of his handling on the problem.

How it works: The focus groups in each of the four states were asked to rate, 0-10, to what degree they support Trump’s rollbacks of environmental regulations. This was asked twice: first without showing a list of 17 specific rollbacks, and then after.

  • The groups gave an average rating of 4.5 before seeing the list, and 3.2 after.
  • Florida voters were also read a quote from Trump explaining why he’s rolling back regulations, including creating jobs, but that didn’t change their views.
  • Click here to see the list plus the Trump quote that was shared with participants.
“Before seeing that list of rollbacks, my hand would have been up 100% for Trump. After seeing it, my hand was not up. I’m not 100% sold on him. I would say I’m 80% sold on Trump just because of a lot of the other things he stands for.”
— Matthew B., a 34-year-old Florida resident

What’s next: Matthew says he’s not sure who he’s going to vote for. Kathy and four of the other Florida voters said they plan to vote for Trump again, despite opposing his environmental record.

Click here to read the full column.

2. Big this week: Congress, politics, trade


Capitol Hill: Cabinet-level officials will face grillings from lawmakers this week as they testify on the White House's budget request.

  • What's next: Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette will appear before a House Appropriations panel Thursday, while EPA boss Andrew Wheeler will face a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee the same day.
  • Why it matters: It's a chance for members to ask officials about anything, even though the budget request is just a messaging document.

More Capitol Hill: Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairwoman Lisa Murkowski could unveil bipartisan energy legislation this week. She told Alaska state lawmakers last week that the upcoming plan would "advance a range of clean energy technologies."

White House: President Trump is in India early this week and boosting U.S. energy exports — notably gas — is on the agenda. Brouillette is on the trip, and so is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Supreme Court: Via AP, the high court will hear arguments today over the fate of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a controversial natural gas project.

  • "The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Forest Service has the authority to grant rights-of-way through lands crossed by the Appalachian Trail within national forests," AP reports.

2020 election: Democratic 2020 hopefuls will debate in South Carolina Tuesday night ahead of the primary there on Saturday. It's also the last debate before Super Tuesday on March 3.

  • Why it matters: Debates can highlight policy differences, which is what happened last week when hopefuls clashed over fracking in Las Vegas.
  • Polling this cycle has consistently shown climate is among voters' top-tier priorities, although typically well behind health care.
Bonus: The energy stakes of Trump's India visit

Trump administration officials face headwinds as they seek agreements to export more U.S. liquefied natural gas to India, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Where it stands: Buyers are wary of long-term deals and instead are increasingly turning to the more flexible spot markets to find cheaper supplies, their piece notes.

Why it matters: That's a problem for companies planning to build new U.S. export facilities but "need sizable advance commitments from buyers to secure the billions needed for the projects."

  • Their piece and this Houston Chronicle story look at plans by Tellurian, which hopes to finalize a long-term deal with Petronet and has officials in India this week.
3. Two glimpses into the future of fossil fuels

Two new corporate decisions highlight the increasing tension between developing carbon-intensive fuels and the push for sustainable energy.

Driving the news, part 1: London-based Anglo Pacific Group, which provides financing to mining companies, said Monday that it will no longer invest in thermal coal (which is used in power).

  • The move from Anglo, which last invested in thermal coal in 2015, is part of a wider update on its sustainability plans announced this morning.

Why it matters: "The shift in Anglo Pacific’s strategy comes as fund managers from BlackRock to Norges become increasingly reluctant to have any association with thermal coal, a mineral that releases more carbon dioxide than any other energy source," per FT.

Driving the news, part 2: Last night, Teck Resources dropped plans to build a major new oil sands mine in Alberta, just ahead an anticipated decision by Canada's federal government on the controversial project.

The big picture: Bloomberg notes that the decision to abandon the decade-old plan frees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from a difficult decision on balancing resource development and climate goals.

  • "Rejecting the mine would have sparked widespread anger in Alberta, where the mine would have provided jobs and investment; approving it would have alienated the Liberal prime minister’s environmentalist base," they report.
  • Plus, their piece and others note that the project's economics rested on oil prices in decades ahead that are far higher than today's levels.
4. The significance of the G20 climate language

The closing memo from the G20 finance ministers' weekend meeting points out that the multilateral Financial Stability Board is "examining the financial stability implications of climate change."

Why it matters: The brief shout-out is the first time that G20 finance officials have referenced climate in a joint communique during the Trump administration, Reuters reports.

But, but, but: Their piece and the New York Times' write-up both report that administration officials resisted stronger language about the topic.

  • "The United States blocked including climate change on a list of downside risks to global growth that had won agreement by nearly all other G20 delegates," Reuters notes.

The big picture: The White House has de-emphasized climate-related risks in addition to weakening regulations and abandoning the Paris climate deal.

  • Despite the G20 language, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin played down the inclusion of the language, per both outlets.
5. Chart of the day: Energy R&D
Expand chart
Reproduced from AAAS via the American Energy Innovation Council; Chart: Axios Visuals

The chart above shows how the share of federal spending on energy research and development has largely declined over decades.

Driving the news: It's one of the data points in a report last week urging Congress to greatly expand the federal programs that help develop and commercialize climate-friendly tech.

What they're saying: Via Axios' Orion Rummler, recommendations from the American Energy Innovation Council — a group of private-sector heavyweights including Bill Gates and Royal Dutch Shell chairman Chad Holliday — include...

  • Boosting funding for the Energy Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program (ARPA-E) to $1 billion per year, which is over twice current levels.
  • Also expanding funding for DOE's Office of Technology Transitions and its lab-embedded entrepreneurship program.
  • Creating a federal Clean Energy Deployment Administration and transforming today's renewable energy tax incentives into a technology-neutral credit that would support newer technologies.

Check out the report

6. ICYMI: The Bezos climate mystery

A big climate story that broke during our hiatus last week was Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announcing plans to spend $10 billion of his personal fortune to fight climate change.

The intrigue: That's a lot of money in the world of climate philanthropy.

  • But Bezos isn't yet providing details about funding areas, how proposals will be vetted and who will make decisions, or the timeline for spending the $10 billion beyond noting that grants will begin this summer.

Read more