Apr 11, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning! Tomorrow marks 35 years since Rush released "Grace Under Pressure," so that inventive trio will play us into the news...

1 big thing: The yin-yang of Big Tech and climate

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The relationship between tech giants, energy and climate is pretty complicated, and 2 new developments offer fresh examples of why.

Driving the news: This morning Apple announced a huge expansion in the number of suppliers who will meet the energy needs for their Apple-related production with renewables.

Why it matters: The role of outside suppliers is crucial because manufacturing makes up three-fourths of Apple's carbon footprint.

  • By the numbers: Per Apple, 44 suppliers — the iPhone-maker Foxconn among them — have now made the renewables pledge, roughly doubling the current number.
  • Apple said it will far exceed its goal of bringing 4 gigawatts of renewables into its supply chain by 2020.
  • Flashback: The company announced a year ago that now completely meets the energy needs for its own facilities with renewables.

The intrigue: The news comes a day after 3,500 employees of another tech giant — Amazon — issued an open letter calling for much tougher steps on climate and management support for a shareholder resolution on the matter.

Where it stands: The employees want firmer and more aggressive carbon-cutting goals and targets.

  • The letter notes that Amazon hasn't set a deadline to meet its pledge to run operations wholly on renewables, and calls the "Shipment Zero" initiative for addressing transportation too weak.
  • It also asks Amazon to abandon a business line of cloud computing services for oil-and-gas companies that help them optimize production.

My thought bubble: Big Tech's place in the fight against climate change defies easy labels.

  • Facebook, Apple, Google and others are pioneering players driving growth in corporate renewable power procurement and making sustainability commitments.
  • And those three, as well as Amazon, Microsoft and others, are all signatories to the "We Are Still In" pledge on the Paris Climate Agreement.

But, but, but: The companies also have big carbon footprints from powering data centers, manufacturing, encouraging consumption and, in Amazon’s case, lots of fossil fuel-powered deliveries.

Plus, Amazon isn’t the only company in Big Tech working with the oil and gas industry to enhance their extraction operations.

  • In late February, ExxonMobil announced a partnership with Microsoft in cloud technology and data aimed at helping boost production in the Permian Basin region.
  • A recent story in Gizmodo, which is cited in the Amazon workers’ letter, delves into services Google, Amazon and other tech firms provide oil companies.

What they're saying: Amazon defended its wide constellation of climate and clean energy programs.

  • "Amazon’s sustainability team is using a science-based approach to develop data and strategies to ensure a rigorous approach to our sustainability work," Amazon said.
  • They cite efforts including Shipment Zero, which aims to make 50% of deliveries with net-zero emissions by 2030, and a boost in their renewables procurement via 3 new wind farms announced this week.
2. Senate climate hawks aren't hunting the filibuster yet

Axios' Amy Harder reports that 3 Democratic senators helping to lead the charge on climate change aren't ready to call for killing the filibuster if their party regains Senate control.

Why it matters: Some White House hopefuls and liberal activists say scrapping the procedural rule, which effectively requires at least 60 Senate votes for most major bills, is vital for advancing their agenda.

  • That's because even if Democrats win the White House and the Senate in 2020, there's almost no chance of a 60-vote majority or even close.

But, but, but: The 3 lawmakers aren't ready to go there — at least right now — according to a media briefing yesterday on their new carbon tax legislation.

“I think we would be unwise to talk about some parliamentary fork in the road that only occurs if we win the Senate and the presidency.”
— Sen. Brian Schatz
“We should win the [climate] debate and deal with the procedural issues when it’s appropriate to deal with the procedural issues.”
— Sen. Martin Heinrich
“I don’t think it’s true we must undo the filibuster in order to prevail.”
— Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

The other side: Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Jay Inslee both support ending the filibuster. A number of other candidates are open to the idea.

Go deeper

3. Venezuela's crude oil collapse
Expand chart
Data: OPEC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Axios' Dion Rabouin writes that Venezuela yesterday reported its oil production fell 500,000 barrels per day in March from the previous month.

The bottom line: Despite being home to the world's largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela now pumps around 1/10th of OPEC leader Saudi Arabia's output, and about half of what it produced as recently as 2017.

Flashback: In 2014, Venezuela pumped roughly 2.5 million barrels of oil daily.

Context: Most recently, the incredible production recession is the result of crippling U.S. sanctions, which, as Bloomberg reported in February, have led to half a billion dollars' worth of Venezuelan oil sitting in ships off its coast, and the rapid debilitation of the state oil company under President Nicolás Maduro.

Go deeper: U.S. sanctions cripple Venezuela's oil sector

4. The limits of Trump's energy orders

A couple of pieces caught my eye that highlight the limits of President Trump's wide-ranging new executive orders aimed at speeding energy infrastructure projects.

Keystone XL: Via S&P Global Platts, "US President Donald Trump's latest executive order to speed pipelines takes aim at the Keystone XL stalemate, but it is unlikely to get the project out of court and onto construction anytime soon."

Shareholder advocacy: One provision calls on the Labor Department to review pension funds' energy-sector investments and department guidance on proxy voting.

  • A note from ClearView Energy Partners says this provision, along with recent SEC moves to limit oil company shareholder resolutions on climate, are an attempt to show that activist investors' environmental, social and governance efforts run counter to pension managers’ fiduciary obligations.
  • Threat level: The twin moves could slow down such efforts, but "may not put the genie back in the bottle now that large energy producers have started to report climate risk," ClearView writes.

Flashback: As we noted yesterday, provisions seeking to curb states' power to block natural gas pipelines under the Clean Water Act may also have limited effect.

But, but, but: Several energy lobbying groups say the orders — which contain a suite of measures aimed at spurring development — are consequential.

  • They "represent meaningful progress to address some of the most pressing issues that commonly result in permitting delays, and we applaud the Trump Administration for tackling this problem," says Christopher Guith, acting head of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Energy Institute.
  • Guith adds they would help "increase [the] predictability and transparency" needed for infrastructure development.
5. On my screen: oil markets, Shell, Bitcoin, EVs

Markets: Via Bloomberg, "Global oil markets are tightening as OPEC supply falls, the International Energy Agency said, while warning it could lower demand forecasts because of economic threats."

Deals: Per Reuters, "Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to sell its stake in the Caesar Tonga field in the Gulf of Mexico for $965 million in cash to a subsidiary of Israel’s energy conglomerate Delek Group."

Cryptocurrency: "On Monday, China’s central state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, included cryptocurrency mining in a list of 450 wasteful and hazardous activities slated for elimination," Wired reports.

Congress: A bipartisan group of senators, led by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander, introduced a bill yesterday that would expand consumer tax credits for buying electric vehicles.

  • Right now the $7,500 credit is limited to 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer before it greatly phases down and vanishes.
  • "The Driving America Forward Act raises the cap and allows purchasers of an additional 400,000 vehicles per manufacturer to be eligible for the tax credit," a summary states.
  • Go deeper: Reuters has much more.
Ben GemanAmy Harder