May 14, 2020

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning. Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,286 words, 4.8 minutes.

Situational awareness: "The United States is on track to produce more electricity this year from renewable power than from coal for the first time on record, new government projections show." (New York Times)

And I'm late in marking the May 12, 1972 release of The Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main St.," but that's fine because the album is exquisitely sloppy and provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: New climate players arrive amid pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

This week is bringing a rapid-fire burst of new climate change groups, underscoring how the pandemic is revamping but isn't freezing advocacy — and if anything is boosting calls for new emissions policies.

Driving the news: Axios' Amy Harder reports exclusively that a group of wealthy donors that has funded far-left climate activists is now beginning to support interests pushing more moderate ideas.

The Climate Emergency Fund, which has donated to such activist groups like Extinction Rebellion and 350.org, is now funding a new effort called the Coalition for Sustainable Jobs.

How it works: Co-founders and donors to the fund include Rory Kennedy, daughter of Sen. Robert Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, and Aileen Getty, granddaughter of oil billionaire Jean Paul Getty.

  • The new coalition has support from moderate interests like evangelists, hunters, fishers and young conservatives.
  • Members include Evangelical Environmental Network, American Conservation Coalition and Conservation Hawks.

What's next: The group wants any economic recovery packages to include relatively narrow clean-energy and climate-change policies, Amy reports.

  • “When COVID hit, and it became very apparent we couldn’t support people going out in the streets right now and the impact this has had on the economy, we all kind of looked at each other,” Kennedy said.
  • “We were looking at Washington where they were releasing literally trillions of dollars, and it felt like we were at this precipice and we can go one way or another.”
  • Go deeper in the Axios stream.

The intrigue: Amy's scoop arrives as former aides to progressive Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee's climate-focused White House run are formally launching a new group today called Evergreen.

  • The group is trying to keep Inslee's very detailed and aggressive platform alive, calling it an "open source" plan. They want Joe Biden (should he win) and congressional Democrats to make emissions-cutting policies a top priority.
  • Evergreen soft-launched last month with a policy platform, but today brings new information and details, including a website, a list of advisers and more.
  • They're collaborating with the progressive think tank Data for Progress in a new push to inject major climate and zero-carbon energy investments into stimulus bills.

But, but, but: It's worth noting that the ongoing push by several groups to add renewables provisions to pandemic response bills has yet to bear fruit.

Who they are: The group's political director is Maggie Thomas, who worked on Inslee's campaign and later for Elizabeth Warren's run. Other former Inslee aides involved include Jamal Raad, Sam Ricketts and Bracken Hendricks.

The big picture: Today's news comes 24 hours after veteran Democratic operatives launched a political (not policy) group aimed at making climate a priority in the election and laying the groundwork for aggressive steps afterward.

2. Oil market forces "have demonstrated their power"

Global oil production is dropping faster than expected as companies in North America and elsewhere curb output in response to the pandemic that has caused demand and prices to crater, the International Energy Agency said.

Why it matters: The monthly report this morning sounds guardedly optimistic notes about the stabilization of oil markets, noting that in addition to the production cuts, collapse in demand is slightly less dire than earlier predictions.

But, but, but: "Major uncertainties remain," the analysis warns. One is whether governments can successfully ease restrictions without sparking a resurgence of outbreaks.

Another is whether countries in the big OPEC+ group — which is led by Saudi Arabia and Russia — comply with their mid-April production-cutting pact.

The big picture: "It is on the supply side where market forces have demonstrated their power and shown that the pain of lower prices affects all producers. We are seeing massive cuts in output from countries outside the OPEC+ agreement and faster than expected," IEA said.

By the numbers: Output from nations that aren't part of the OPEC+ deal, led by the U.S. and Canada, was down by 3 million barrels per day in April compared to levels at the beginning of the year.

  • The decline could reach 4 million barrels per day in June, "with perhaps more to come," IEA said.
  • U.S. production alone could be 2.8 million barrels per day lower at year's end than it was at the close of 2019.
  • Meanwhile, IEA also trimmed its projection for demand loss. It now estimates that global demand this year will drop by 8.6 million barrels per day, lower than the prior projection of 9.3 million.

Go deeper: Oil Demand to Face Further Pressure, but IEA Sees Signs of Recovery (Wall Street Journal)

3. Green energy jobs losses are piling up
Data: BW Research; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Job losses in the broadly defined clean energy sector skyrocketed last month with over 447,000 positions shed, per new data released by the BW Research Partnership and industry groups.

What they did: The analysis is based on unemployment claims in industries including efficiency (think efficient lighting and HVAC systems and so forth), renewable power, alternative fuels, storage and grid tech, and electric cars.

Find the report here.

Go deeper: Climate change is looming. But America has lost 600,000 clean energy jobs (Los Angeles Times)

4. The intriguing arrival of the Biden-Sanders task force

There are certainly more riveting terms than "task force," but it'll be fascinating to see what comes of the climate task force announced yesterday by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders (which we covered here).

Catch up fast: Sanders' representatives include high-profile progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will co-chair the group, and the co-founder of the upstart Sunrise Movement, which hasn't been shy about attacking Biden's climate plan.

What we're watching: That's whether the group, which is supposed to make recommendations to Biden and the Democratic National Committee, will come to an agreement on specific policy measures (as opposed to just broad consensus principles).

Why it matters: I'm not aware of an election ever rising or falling on the outcome of a policy task force. But that said, there could be real stakes here for Biden.

  • The blessing of AOC and lefty activists could help inspire Bernie Sanders' backers who are less than psyched about Biden.
  • But AOC and Sunrise are not shrinking violets, and if the group doesn't find agreement, that could discourage those same voters.

What they're saying: The Trump campaign sees a political opening with the announcement, yesterday calling it evidence that Biden is listening to America's "two leading socialists."

On the other side, AOC — an outsider in Democratic politics — yesterday made sure to explain why she's taking part.

  • "I have always believed that real change happens not with a panel or task force, but in everyday people organizing mass movements to demand change," she tweeted.
  • "Yet we should also commit to showing up everywhere — every space where there are decisions &formative conversations — w/ mvmt voices."
5. The limits of Trump's oil aid

The Trump administration is not planning specific financial aid to beleaguered oil producers, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told Amy in an interview Wednesday.

Driving the news: The administration has already taken a few limited steps. But speculation about more aggressive aid grew when President Trump tweeted on April 21 that he instructed Brouillette and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to "formulate a plan which will make funds" available to the sector.

What they're saying: “For the time being, the first steps we’ve taken are going to be what we do. I’m not anticipating any broad strokes here beyond what we’ve already done,” Brouillette said.

“We’re not contemplating, as I sit here today, a specific second or third step. It may come if the results of the plan aren’t panning out the way we had hoped," he said.

Flashback: Brouillette’s comments confirm what Politico reported last week — that as oil prices stabilized, the administration’s focus on helping the sector has waned.

Catch up fast: Here’s what the Trump administration has done to help the industry:

  • The Federal Reserve changed the rules to its new lending program on April 30 in a way that allows oil companies to qualify for the aid, a move Brouillette told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday came at least partly at the behest of the administration.
  • The Energy Department is allowing oil companies to store some excess oil in the nation’s strategic reserves.
  • Trump and other officials across his administration pressed Saudi Arabia and Russia to reach their production-cutting deal in mid-April.

Go deeper

Ben GemanAmy Harder