Feb 13, 2019

Axios Generate

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Last month marked 30 years since the release of The Traveling Wilbury's single "End of the Line," so they'll play us into the news...

1 big thing: The 2020 GND battle arrives early


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a Green New Deal fight on his terms, and right now, he's getting it.

Driving the news: "I've noted with great interest the Green New Deal. And we're going to be voting on that in the Senate," McConnell said on Capitol Hill yesterday.

ICYMI: The GND resolution unveiled last week is a sweeping emissions and jobs template that would later be transformed into specifics as backers hope for a political window on climate to open after 2020.

Why it matters: It's suddenly tricky for Democrats, especially the half-dozen senators running for president who co-sponsored the resolution.

  • That's thanks in no small part to the wide-ranging FAQ that House sponsor Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's office posted and then took down, with her chief of staff calling it a draft released in error.
  • It contained all kinds of things that aren't found in the underlying resolution, such as the idea of economic security for those "unwilling to work" and building enough high-speed rail so that air travel isn't necessary.
  • It also steered the policy away from nuclear power and industrial carbon capture, unlike the resolution that's agnostic on particular low-carbon options.

The result was to hand ammo to Republicans and leave Senate Democrats on the defensive, even though those points are not in what they sponsored.

Between the lines: Even without the FAQ, it's not clear where the majority of Senate Democrats come down on the GND that Sen. Ed Markey introduced with 11 co-sponsors and Republicans are attacking.

  • "By sanctioning a vote, McConnell appears to be betting that the resolution will prove too radical for a good number of Democrats, let alone any Republicans," HuffPost notes.
  • Republicans are attacking the GND as a radical and economically damaging dream, with Sen. John Barrasso calling it a "socialist manifesto that lays out a laundry list of government giveaways."
  • Democrat are responding by bashing Republicans' lack of a climate plan, although Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn't yet weighed in on GND.

The intrigue: A former senior Obama administration official who worked on energy and asked to remain anonymous tells me...

"[The FAQ release] was a monumental screw up. It is putting the potential for a robust climate action at risk."
"The resolution itself did a great job of avoiding these controversies and finding a way to appeal to a broad spectrum of Democrats. But because the FAQs drove the narrative, McConnell sees it as a way to hurt vulnerable Democrats and embarrass the 2020 field."

What's next: It's not exactly clear what McConnell will bring up or when, and whether Democrats will use Senate procedure to force Republicans to vote on anything related (such as the reality of human-caused warming and its effects).

My thought bubble: McConnell would not be doing this unless he saw a political opening. But it's far too early to know whether the GND is ultimately a political winner or loser for Democrats.

Go deeper

2. EIA goes bigger on crude forecast — again

The Energy Department's data arm has boosted its U.S. crude production forecast again, driven by rising Permian Basin output.

Driving the news: The Energy Information Administration's latest monthly report sees U.S. production — already at record levels — averaging 12.4 million barrels per day this year and 13.2 mbd in 2020.

  • Just a month ago, EIA was projecting a 12.1 mbd average this year and 12.9 mbd next year.

Why it matters: The steadily rising forecasts show the appetite of U.S. producers to keep ramping up output despite relatively modest prices, posing a challenge to OPEC members seeking to tighten the market.

What's new: Via Reuters, "The global oil market will struggle this year to absorb fast-growing crude supply from outside OPEC, even with the group’s production cuts and U.S. sanctions on Venezuela and Iran, the International Energy Agency said in a report on Wednesday."

But, but, but: Goldman Sachs analysts, in a new note, say they see prices climbing to reach $67.50 in the second quarter, "driven by the combination of resilient demand growth exceeding low expectations and large supply curtailments from OPEC+."


In other petro-news, the New York Times reports on an interesting development in the geopolitics of natural gas and U.S.-German relations...

  • "Officials in Berlin agreed to help finance a port to import liquefied natural gas from America, a key United States demand," per NYT.
  • "In return, the United States government is toning down its opposition to an underwater pipeline being built to Germany from Russia," the story adds, referring to the controversial Nord Stream 2 project.
3. Amazon and GM may fund EV startup Rivian
Rivian R1S is a battery-powered SUV for off-roading adventurers. Photo: Rivian

Amazon and GM are in talks to invest in electric-truck maker Rivian Automotive in a deal that would value the Michigan startup at between $1 billion and $2 billion, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Rivian made a splashy debut last November with 2 new rugged battery-powered models — a pickup truck and a 7-passenger SUV. But it's the electric, semi-automated chassis underpinning those models that has likely attracted the interest of Amazon and GM, Axios' Joann Muller writes.

Details: Rivian intends to market its own brand of trucks — as many as 6 models some day — but from the beginning, it has been plotting a B2B strategy to share its technology with other companies.

  • Rivian's battery-powered "skateboard" platform can scale up or down and is designed to be modular, so it can accommodate many types of vehicles, from pod cars to delivery trucks and even snowmobiles.

What we're hearing: In an interview with Axios in October, Rivian founder RJ Scaringe mused about companies like Amazon, Starbucks or Apple launching their own mobility fleets on top of a generic platform.

  • At the time, he said the company was in talks with 6 potential strategic investors, both tech giants and automakers, that he wouldn't name.
  • In an emailed statement, GM would only say: “We admire Rivian’s contribution to a future of zero emissions and an all-electric future.” 

Read more

4. Trump's new nuclear push

President Trump yesterday met with a group of nuclear energy industry officials about ways to spur expanded development abroad.

The big picture: Via Bloomberg, "The executives sought to enlist Trump in their bid to make U.S. nuclear power more competitive globally, such as with financing assistance to vie against subsidized companies. Russia, China and France are also seeking to build nuclear plants overseas."

  • Officials from companies including Exelon, Westinghouse, TerraPower, GE, X-energy, NuScale and others met at the White House.

What we're hearing: My Axios colleagues Jonathan Swan, Dave Lawler and Alayna Treene reported ahead of the meeting that part of the focus is on securing a controversial agreement to enable development of reactors in Saudi Arabia.

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5. A big blow to high-speed rail

A major high-speed rail project in California is getting dramatically cut back and will be limited to the portion from Merced to Bakersfield, LA Times reports.

What's new, per LAT:

"Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in his first State of the State speech that he intends to scale back California’s $77-billion bullet train project, saying that while the state has the capacity to complete the first leg in the Central Valley, extending the rail line to Southern California and the Bay Area would 'cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.'"

Why it matters: The U.S. is a laggard on high-speed rail, and plans to greatly curtail the project are a blow to efforts to begin to change that equation.

  • High-speed rail is a tool to decarbonize transport along with other mass transit options (such as electric buses, other kinds of trains), electric cars, better pedestrian and bike options and more.

The intrigue: It appears the more expansive plan isn't dead but instead just on ice. More from the LAT...

  • "Newsom also said he will continue to push for federal and private funding for the entire rail system, leading to some confusion about whether he planned to scrap all but the Central Valley portion or simply postpone construction of the remaining legs of the project."
  • "After the speech, a spokesperson for the governor’s office confirmed the latter."

Go deeper: High-speed rail and the Green New Deal

6. Infrastructure and the Green New Deal

A downed transformer in Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 10. Photo: Randy Vazquez/Digital First Media/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Axios Expert Voices contributor Amy Myers Jaffe writes ... The sweeping ambition of the GND has raised questions about how it will be paid for.

But it’s important to consider how its potential outlays might intersect with investments that will need to be made anyway to replace aging U.S. energy infrastructure.

The big picture: The U.S. already needs to increase its infrastructure investment by more than $3.8 trillion by 2040 in clean water, energy and electricity, transportation networks and telecommunications.

  • The GND could offer a way for policymakers to direct the infrastructure repair and upgrading that already needs to be done in service of fighting climate change.

Background: In the wake of natural disasters, there have been many missed opportunities where federal dollars have gone to restoring, rather than rethinking, poorly designed infrastructure.

  • PG&E’s history of constantly replacing hundreds of residential electricity transformers that fail during heat waves instead of installing new technology is a case in point.

What to watch: Moving forward, the GND could serve as a roadmap for ensuring federal dollars get spent wisely and fairly. Spending on resiliency and decarbonization could overlap via new technologies, as New York, Hawaii and other states are investigating.

Go deeper: Read the full post.

Myers Jaffe is the David M. Rubenstein senior fellow for energy and the environment and director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations.