Mar 14, 2018

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning!

The Pretenders were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on this date 13 years ago, so they've got today's intro tune...

Rexit 1: Modeling the climate effects
Giphy

Let's explore how the firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday might affect U.S. climate policy, especially as the secretary-in-waiting, Mike Pompeo, has openly questioned the dominant scientific view on human-induced global warming.

The big picture: The rapid-fire departure of White House aides George David Banks, Gary Cohn, and now Tillerson means the disappearance of the more moderate voices — by Trump administration standards — on climate policy from the president's orbit.

Flashback: Banks, Cohn and Tillerson were all on the losing end of the fight to keep President Trump from saying he would withdraw from the Paris accord.

But, but, but: It's also true that the U.S. has not gone further by formally abandoning the underlying UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and has continued participating in talks around topics like the Paris deal's transparency provisions.

“Tillerson was not going to go out on a limb on climate, but the existing climate and environment career staff... were pretty secure and have had a role to play in Tillerson's State Department."
— Atlantic Council climate expert David Livingston

One view: "The downside scenario is Pompeo looks for an opportunity to signal a clean break with Tillersons’ tenure at the helm of the State Department,” Livingston said, noting effects on climate policy but also other environmental work.

Another view: Some observers say that Pompeo might simply lack the bandwidth to pare back climate efforts much beyond the watering down what has already occurred.

"Given the other issues on the plate of the State Department (North Korea, Iraq, etc.) and the need to hire key, unfilled positions, it's unclear that Director Pompeo would prioritize a major shift in the policy direction on climate."
— Kalee Kreider, a former adviser to VP Al Gore, tells Axios

The intrigue: A lot could depend on who Pompeo seeks to install in key State roles. E&E News points out that the White House has not put forward a nominee to serve as assistant secretary of state for Oceans and International, Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

Go deeper: Read the full story here.

Rexit 2: Geopolitics of Iran and Venezuela
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Reproduced from EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

A number of analysts quickly predicted that Tillerson's ouster and Mike Pompeo's ascendance will ensure a more aggressive U.S. posture against two major oil producers: Iran and Venezuela.

Why it matters: Beyond the security and humanitarian considerations, potential new sanctions could also alter oil markets.

“Pompeo’s selection augurs a period of higher risk and volatility in energy markets. Pompeo supports a more unilateral and confrontational approach toward Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea."
— David Goldwyn, a top State energy official early in Hillary Clinton’s tenure, tells Axios
Iran

The Iran nuclear deal is hanging by a thread: In the near term, Trump is facing a May decision about whether to again waive sanctions against Iran's oil sector, and has signaled he won't sign another waiver absent changes to the nuclear agreement.

Yes, but: Winning those changes is an uphill climb. Joseph McMonigle of Hedgeye Risk Management said in a note that it's unlikely Congress or EU will take meaningful action to modify the agreement and believes Trump's decision to replace Tillerson "surely signals the end" of the deal.

The fallout: Several sources indicated this would have significant impact, with McMonigle noting that the reimposition of U.S. sanctions would "inject significant geopolitical instability in oil markets."

Venezuela

The country is another place to watch as plunging oil production has fueled an economic and humanitarian crisis.

Check out the chart above that shows how the country's oil production plummeted in the last two years. As EIA notes here, by January of this year it was already another 300,000-plus barrels-per-day lower than in 2017.

Rexit's potential impact on Venezuela:

"Pompeo will likely align with more hawkish voices in the administration calling for stepped up sanctions, including those that would further restrict Venezuela's ability to export crude and further curtail the regime's revenue."
— RBC Capital Markets' Helima Croft, in a note yesterday

More: Read the full story here. And, S&P Global Platts breaks down the potential oil market and geopolitical effects of Tillerson's ouster here.

One big idea: utilities in the Amazon age

One good listen: Let's take a break from Beltway policy for a moment. I enjoyed this podcast with Adrian Tuck, CEO of Tendril, a data analytics company that works with utilities.

This edition, by Greentech Media's Energy Gang, has a wide-ranging discussion of the emerging, tech-driven consumer choices in power use and management — fueled by forces ranging from convenience to cost-saving to environmental concern. Plus, he talks about which players will best compete.

Highlights from the interview:

“Forces outside of the energy industry are going to drive a change in consumer behavior. ... Companies like Apple and Google and others will compete for the automated home."
"They will provide what we hope will be a bewildering array of products and services that will become cleverer and cleverer because they can connect with each other, and through various apps and voice-activated programs, will start to have more and more connectivity with the things that consume energy in our home.”
“The first step here is for utilities to realize that they should be co-opting that movement, not fighting it. It would be remarkably brave of a utility to imagine that they can beat Apple and Google and the others in terms of getting mind-share with consumers about the products that they buy in their home.”
Rick Perry's next move

My Axios colleagues Jonathan Swan and Amy Harder have a story in the Axios stream about the possibility that Trump will fire Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin — and potentially replace him with Energy secretary Rick Perry.

Why Perry? Ever since he's arrived in D.C., he's kept his head down with few media headlines, which makes the president happy. Trump believes he's knowledgeable about the issues and likes that he's got a good relationship with vet advocate Marcus Luttrell, the war hero whose story is told in the movie "Lone Survivor."

Yes, but: The president has also been heard throwing around other names as potential replacements for Shulkin. Just remember: This is Trumpworld, where nothing is ever final until Trump makes — or tweets — his decision. Perry's chief of staff had no comment.

And don't forget: Some senior staff will try to talk Trump out of picking Perry because that would mean two more confirmation votes (for Perry and his replacement) on top of that for the new secretary of state.

The intrigue: One question is how much Perry would want the new gig. He's fond of saying that running DOE is the "coolest job" out there.

Latest in policy: autos, offshore drilling, RFS

Tougher line on cars: EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, in an interview with Bloomberg, "signaled a coming showdown with California, warning the state won’t dictate the future of ambitious automobile fuel economy regulations enacted by the Obama administration."

  • The big question: Will Pruitt seek to end the Clean Air Act waiver that gives California — and by extension a number of other states — the power to set tougher rules than the federal standards? This will be a key topic if EPA rolls back Obama-era rules.

Ethanol: Via Reuters, "The EPA and the Carlyle Group-backed Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery agreed on Monday that the refiner will have to satisfy only roughly half of its $350 million in outstanding compliance obligations under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)."

  • Why it matters: The Reuters piece notes that biofuels industry groups and allies fear it sets a precedent that could enable other refiners to avoid full compliance with the ethanol mandate.

Offshore drilling: Via The Washington Post, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dropped some hints during a Senate hearing Tuesday about how the proposal to massively expand offshore areas opened to oil drilling may be scaled back.

Ben GemanAmy Harder