Axios Generate

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June 21, 2019

Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,072 words/~ 4 minute read.

Situational awareness: "A massive fire and series of explosions rocked a South Philadelphia refinery complex, the largest on the East Coast, early Friday morning," NBC reports, adding that no injuries were reported.

This week on “Axios on HBO”: An interview with California Gov. Gavin Newsom, how memes may be influencing Andrew Yang’s 2020 bid, plus the inequities of marijuana legalization. Tune in Sunday at 6 pm ET/PT. 

Onto music. At this moment 40 years ago, Anita Ward was atop Billboard's R&B charts (and would soon be #1 in the Hot 100) with this infectious classic...

1 big thing: Geopolitics roars into oil market

Chart showing origin and destination of oil shipped in the Strait of Hormuz

Screenshot: Chart in EIA brief, "The Strait of Hormuz is the world's most important oil transit chokepoint"

Crude oil prices surged yesterday and are heading upward again this morning amid escalating tensions in the Middle East.

Why it matters: The upward moves show how geopolitical conflict is at least temporarily in the driver's seat in oil markets, after weeks of humdrum economic news sending prices largely downward.

What's new: "Brent oil rallied above $65 per barrel on Friday and was on track for a 5% gain this week on fears of a U.S. military attack on Iran that would disrupt flows from the Middle East," Reuters reports.

  • West Texas Intermediate saw its biggest one-day gain of the year yesterday and the global benchmark Brent crude had its biggest climb since January.
  • Per Bloomberg, the Fed's hints that it may cut interest rates and signs that the U.S. and China will resume trade talks also boosted prices.

Where it stands: The New York Times reported late last night that "President Trump approved military strikes against Iran in retaliation for downing an American surveillance drone," but then pulled back.

The big picture: Check out the chart above via the Energy Information Administration. One reason why the U.S.-Iran strife is rattling oil markets is that roughly one-fifth of total demand flows through the Strait of Hormuz each day.

The U.S. isn't insulated from the risks, despite the domestic production boom, declining imports from the Middle East, and the majority of oil that passes through Hormuz heading to Asia.

Axios Expert Voices contributors Richard Newell and Daniel Raimi of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future have more on this...

  • "The risk isn’t directly to physical supply, but rather to price movements that affect business and consumers alike," they write.
  • "Past oil price spikes have coincided with numerous conflicts in the Middle East where physical supplies to the U.S. were not threatened."
  • Read more of their piece.

2. Why speedy delivery is a climate threat

 Illustration of a package with an earth logo on it and the words "fragile, handle with care"
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With its acceleration of Prime shipping from two days to one, Amazon established a new normal. Soon after, Walmart and Target came out with their own super-speedy shipping options, Axios' Erica Pandey writes.

Why it matters: Flying, trucking and delivering millions of packages a day comes with a cost. As shoppers demand faster and faster speed, there has been a sharp environmental impact.

The big picture: Consumers have gotten hooked on speed, and the efficiencies that e-commerce injected into retail are getting erased because now there are more deliveries of smaller numbers of packages. With this trend, emissions have grown.

  • The annual sustainability report from UPS, one of the biggest enablers of the e-commerce boom, says it emitted 13.8 million metric tonnes of CO2 while delivering 5.1 billion packages in 2017, by ground and air.
  • Emissions from FedEx, the other major shipper, were 15.1 million metric tonnes in 2017. The U.S. Postal Service emitted about 4.3 million metric tonnes of CO2 in 2016. (Numbers from both include all mail, including e-commerce and personal packages and letters.)

Together, that's equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of just over 7 million cars, per an EPA calculator.

Go deeper

3. A wild and weird week on emissions targets

State and national efforts to deeply cut emissions are seeing sharply diverging fates this week. Here are the latest...

Europe: "European Union leaders failed Thursday to back a plan to make the bloc’s economy carbon neutral by 2050 in spite of promises to protesters across the continent to fight harder against climate change," the Associated Press reports.

  • Why it matters: Climate advocates were hoping for a unified goal at the EU summit ahead of a major UN meeting this fall aimed at prodding nations worldwide to raise their ambition.
  • Where it stands: Poland and 3 other Eastern European nations opposed the plan. However, AP says that the summit statement included a footnote stating "[f]or a large majority of Member States, climate neutrality must be achieved by 2050."
  • Go deeper: EU 2050 climate target blocked by eastern nations (Financial Times)($)

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to sign a sweeping bill that cleared both chambers of the legislature this week.

  • Why it matters: It's perhaps the most aggressive state law to pass at a time when the White House is paring back federal efforts.
  • It requires an 85% cut in emissions by 2050 and a goal of offsetting the remaining 15% to achieve "net-zero" by then.
  • It also aims to achieve 70% renewable power by 2030 and zero-emissions power overall by 2040.

Oregon: Gov. Kate Brown has sent state police to track down Republican lawmakers who left the state Capitol in order to prevent passage of a sweeping cap-and-trade bill, AP and others reported.

  • It's aimed at lowering state emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
  • Per the Oregonian, one GOP lawmaker "poured gasoline on the situation, suggesting he would shoot and potentially kill any state trooper sent to haul him unwillingly back to the Capitol."

4. The GOP's glacial climate pivot

Dazedandconfused GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Two things yesterday provide a Rorschach test for people looking for signs of real shifts in the GOP position on global warming.

Driving the news: A bipartisan House group called the Climate Solutions Caucus relaunched yesterday after seeing its GOP ranks cut sharply by last year's elections.

  • The group now has 22 GOP members, well below levels in the last Congress.
  • The GOP co-chair, Francis Rooney, is among the very small number of Republicans who back a carbon tax.
  • Just 4 members — 2 from each party — showed up at yesterday's event on Capitol Hill, according to E&E News ($).
  • Rooney, in press reports, chalked up the low attendance to members being busy with appropriations legislation.

But, but, but: Yesterday the vast majority of House Republicans voted for a proposal to hamstring EPA's power to regulate greenhouse gases — including 12 of those 22 GOP climate caucus members.

  • Details: GOP Rep. Paul Gosar's amendment to a big spending bill would have prevented EPA from implementing the 2009 "endangerment finding" that GHGs threaten human welfare.
  • Why it matters: It was a symbolic vote against the finding that provides the legal underpinning for federal emissions regulation.
  • What happened: 177 Republicans supported the amendment, while 21 opposed it. It failed, 178-254, with all but 1 Democrat in opposition.
  • Yes, yes, EPA action is by no means the only way to address climate change, but absent prospects for major legislation, it's among the most powerful federal tools available.

Quick take: The GOP tally was quite lopsided, but the party's hard line against both emissions regulation and carbon taxes has eroded a little.

  • In a 2011 vote, not a single Republican opposed legislation to block EPA rules that included repeal of the endangerment finding, while, as noted above, 21 opposed yesterday's amendment.
  • And, as pointed out by the group republicEn (which seeks to rally conservatives around market-based climate policies), the number of GOP co-sponsors of an anti-carbon tax resolution keeps dropping.