Apr 20, 2017

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning and welcome back to Generate, where your host is admiring the Wall Street Journal's awesome headline a couple days ago, with its inclusion of an iconic 80s music and movie reference ("Highway From the Endangerment Zone.") Respect. Confidential tips and, of course, your feedback is welcome at ben@axios.com. Let's dive in . . .

Trump vs. the world on climate

Happening today: Trump meets with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House. It's unclear whether they'll talk about climate change, but the White House says it plans to decide its stance on the Paris climate accord ahead of the G-7 meeting that Gentiloni is hosting in Sicily in late May. Maybe they'll even get a question about it at their joint press conference.

Tension: The latest sign of the climate split between Europeans and Trump, who is aggressively rolling back Obama-era emissions curbs, arrives via the Washington Post.

  • "It's clear that we cannot expect the same kind of leadership from the U.S. following the change in administration," Miguel Arias Cañete, the European Union's climate action and energy commissioner, told the paper.

The whole world is watching: Inside Climate News reports on an obscure United Nations document that features inquiries to the U.S. from China, the EU, and others about how the U.S. intends to meet its emissions targets.

  • "The queries are an early sign that tense negotiations lie ahead if the U.S. does not quit the climate talks outright," the website reports, adding that the questions signal "widespread concerns" that Trump's policies will make it impossible for the U.S. to meet its international emissions pledges.

Pressure point:

One administration insider, who favors staying in Paris, is making the case that bailing on the pact is actually inconsistent with Trump's "America First" mantra. "What opponents to Paris want is an America Alone approach, not America First," the source told my Axios colleague Amy Harder. Syria, Uzbekistan and Nicaragua are the only nations that have not signed onto the Paris deal.

A closer look at Musk's semi-truck battery

Axios battery wizard Steve LeVine has a very interesting new post up about Tesla's plans to enter the heavy trucking market. Here's a bit of his item, but I really recommend checking out the whole thing here. Take it away....

Elon Musk's latest product — an electric Tesla semi-truck that he said he will introduce in September — is less outlandish than some have suggested, according to a leading battery researcher.

Why it matters: Musk threatens to upend the truck-making industry, as he has with electric cars — at least as posed by an analyst with Piper Jeffray this week who downgraded and revised his ratings on a few makers of conventional semi-trucks in light of the coming Tesla model. In addition, semi-trucks are responsible for an estimated 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. transportation sector.

Gerbrand Ceder, a materials scientist at UC Berkeley, says in a back-of-the-envelope calculation that a battery capable of powering a long-haul semi-truck for 500 miles on a single charge would cost roughly $70,000 and weigh around three tons. If fast-charging standards are upgraded to account for the trucks, an hour of fast-charging could replenish about 300 miles of range, he said. Fuel savings could pay it off in fewer than five years.


Your Generate host likes looking at the Lobbying Disclosure Act database, where you can learn things like....

Coal giant Peabody Energy has tapped Polsinelli PC, including former Rep. John Shadegg, to lobby on, well, something or other. The newly posted Lobbying Disclosure Act registration filing simply says, "legislation related to energy issues." (Reminder: LDA filings are often really vague, which frustrates transparency advocates.)

Fulcrum Bioenergy, Inc. has brought on Hogan Lovells US LLP to lobby. The company, which won a USDA loan guarantee a few years ago, seeks to turn household garbage into low-carbon transportation fuels.

FuelCell Energy, Inc. has signed up Foley & Lardner LLP, including former Rep. Scott Klug, to lobby on their behalf. The goal, according to their filing, is to "restore fuel cell tax credits and Department of Energy fuel cell research funding."

Northeast Public Power Association has hired Meguire Whitney, LLC to lobby for them, and their form lists the issues as "energy, utilities, nuclear, tax."

More influence

An item in the Axios stream yesterday looked at the new disclosure of donors to President Trump's inaugural committee. Energy interests on the list include:

  • J. Clifford Forrest, coal executive, $1 million
  • Green Plains, ethanol producer, $1 million
  • Chevron, $525K
  • Exxon Mobil, $500K
  • Chevron, $500K
  • Citgo Petroleum, $500K
  • Murray Energy Corporation, $300K
  • Nextera Energy, $250K
  • Valero, $100K
  • Anadarko Petroleum, $100K
  • Clean Energy Fuels Corp., $100K
​Fallout from Exxon's Russian sanctions relief bid

The Wall Street Journal had the scoop yesterday that Exxon Mobil is asking the Treasury Department for a waiver from sanctions against Russia in order to resume work with Rosneft on a drilling project in the Black Sea.

  • Perspective: My Axios colleague Steve LeVine notes that "[i]f granted, the waiver would erode one of the most powerful American levers against Russia in terms of getting it to pull back from Ukraine."
  • Fallout: Exxon's push has gained quick notice and criticism on Capitol Hill. "Are they crazy?" wondered prominent GOP Sen. John McCain on Twitter. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, gave a statement to the WSJ calling on Treasury to reject the request. Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden tweets: "Current Exxon CEO asks Former Exxon CEO now Sec. of State to waive Russian sanctions. Right…"
  • To be sure: The request is with Treasury, not Secretary of State and former Exxon chief Rex Tillerson's department, but the WSJ notes that State would have input. Tillerson has recused himself from Exxon-related matters for two years. But Wyden's tweet and other Capitol Hill responses exemplify how tricky the politics of the request have immediately become.
The promise and challenge of renewables jobs for coal workers

Potential: The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that a coal mining company in eastern Kentucky, where mining employment has been falling, is planning to build " what could become the state's largest solar farm on a reclaimed mountaintop strip mine, promising jobs for displaced coal miners."

Caution: A blog post this week up at the University of California's Haas School of Business looks at, among other things, the overall national potential for displaced coal industry workers to transition to the renewable energy industry.

  • Citing an Energy Department report, Energy Institute at Haas executive director Andrew Campbell notes several challenges — such as the fact that coal industry job losses and renewables industry job gains tend to be located in different regions. The piece also notes, however, that jobs at utility-scale solar projects (which is relevant to the story above) tend to pay more than rooftop installations.
Lightning round

Finance: Reuters reports on a new wrinkle in Saudi Aramco's massive IPO plans. "China is creating a consortium, including state-owned oil giants and banks and its sovereign wealth fund, that will act as a cornerstone investor in the initial public offering."

Tech: MIT Technology Review looks at the potential for blockchain to enable local solar energy microgrids, with a focus on the Brooklyn Microgrid.

EPA: The Associated Press obtained documents showing that Dow Chemical is urging the Trump administration to "scrap the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species."

  • "Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO also heads a White House manufacturing working group, and two other makers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them 'to set aside' the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed."

Oil sands: Big international oil players including Shell have been dumping their holdings in Canada's oil sands. Bloomberg has a look at the effect of the consolidation of the operations in Canadian corporate hands.

  • "Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. are betting they can exploit new technologies and their deeper understanding of Canadian-specific issues, such as environmental rules and relations with native communities, to profit from one of the world's biggest hydrocarbon reserves without their former partners."
Ben GemanAmy Harder

That's it for today! Thanks for reading everyone.