Oct 2, 2019

Axios Generate

Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,037 words, 4 minutes.

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Plus, today marks 40 years since the late Bob Marley and The Wailers released the album "Survival," so a cut from that call-to-arms brings us into the news...

1 big thing: The Greta moment
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Data: NewsWhip; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

My colleague Neal Rothschild reports ... Thanks to Greta Thunberg, climate change stories generated 18 million social media interactions over the last 2 weeks, the most for the topic this year by far, per NewsWhip data provided exclusively to Axios.

Why it matters: Climate change has lagged in generating significant online interest, even as it's taken on a great urgency among Democrats and young voters. NewsWhip's findings suggest the messenger matters.

  • Climate change stories generated 5 million more interactions (comments, shares, likes on Facebook and Twitter) than the second-biggest 2-week period of the year.
  • That's more than guns, immigration and the economy over this time.
  • If not for the Trump-Ukraine-impeachment story, climate change would have been the No. 1 issue.

Between the lines: Thunberg is a big reason for the uptick in climate interest.

Go deeper: Read the full story here, where you can also hover over the chart to see articles and interactions for each candidate and issue, and check NewsWhip's methodology.

2. Trump officials likely to back off auto regs freeze

The Trump administration will likely endorse modest increases in vehicle mileage and emissions standards when it completes rules to weaken Obama-era mandates, multiple sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: The move, depending on the details, will likely force automakers into tough decisions about whether to endorse it.

  • The industry's position is that there should be annual increases, rather than no gains through the mid-2020s.
  • EPA and the Transportation Department had initially proposed freezing the Obama administration's planned increases in 2020.

What they're saying: "[B]ased on other conversations with the administration and others ... it seems likely that the final rule will require some year-over-year efficiency improvements," said a source familiar with the administration's thinking.

Where it stands: Big players are already going their own way. 4 automakers — Ford, VW, Honda and BMW — struck a deal with California in July that they say amounts to 3.7% annual efficiency gains in model years 2022–2026.

  • It's very unlikely that the Trump administration will go nearly that far, given that the deal with California is in the ballpark of the Obama-era standards (although somewhat weaker).

Flashback: EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has hinted at the prospect of backing off the freeze. On Sept. 19 he said the final rule "will not look exactly the same way that we proposed it.”

  • An EPA spokesperson declined comment.
3. A contrarian take on carbon pricing


A new peer-reviewed paper cuts against the grain by concluding that the most effective carbon tax structure should start high and decline over time.

Why it matters: It breaks with carbon tax bills floating around Congress and other proposals that begin modestly and then escalate.

What they found: The paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal offers several reasons for flipping the script.

  • Uncertainty around just how bad damage from climate change could be makes strong near-term steps vital.
  • The high costs of delaying action.
  • Falling costs of cutting emissions over time as technology improves.

The big picture: The paper's modeling suggests an optimal price would begin at well over $100-per-ton (or even much higher), rise for a few years, and then fall.

"[P]roperly taking climate uncertainty into account leads to the conclusion that we need to take stronger action today to give us breathing room in the event that the planet turns out to be more fragile than current models predict."
— Kent Daniel, lead author and professor at Columbia Business School, per statement

Where it stands: It's very different than what's out there now.

  • The nonprofit Climate Leadership Council, which includes Big Oil backers, is circulating a plan that starts at $40-per-ton of CO2 and rises annually.
  • A Columbia University energy think tank has a helpful tally of Capitol Hill plans that all start with far lower CO2 prices than the PNAS paper suggests.

But, but, but: "Treat carbon in the atmosphere like an asset (with negative payoffs) and apply Financial Economics 101, and its price appears to jump by quite a bit over typically modeled prices," PNAS co-author Gernot Wagner tells me.

Go deeper: We may have been thinking about a carbon price all wrong (Gizmodo's Earther)

4. Dems press DOE's Perry on Ukraine travels

Capitol Hill Democrats want more information about Energy Secretary Rick Perry's activities in the Ukraine as they investigate President Trump.

Where it stands: The Houston Chronicle notes that the House subpoena of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani seeks "documents related to Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s involvement with Ukrainian leaders last spring."

  • Politico explores that topic and efforts by Sen. Robert Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, to learn more about Perry's May travel to the country.

Why it matters: The efforts are opening a "rare window into the energy secretary’s role as an emissary for some of the administration’s most sensitive international missions," per Politico.

5. Catch up fast: ethanol, OPEC, EV charging

Policy: "The Trump administration has agreed to a new plan for boosting renewable fuels and offsetting waivers exempting oil refineries from mandates to use them, according to three people familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity before a formal announcement," Bloomberg reports.

Oil: Per Reuters, "Ecuador, one of the smallest members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said on Tuesday it will leave the 14-nation bloc from Jan. 1 due to fiscal problems."

More oil: "Norway’s massive wealth fund got the go-ahead to sell oil and gas stocks worth $5.9 billion, ending a two-year process that has reduced an initial proposal to dump all its petroleum investments to a more moderate divestment," per Bloomberg.

EV charging: The VW unit Electrify America yesterday announced it's now selling a home-charging system for $499, and says it's "compatible with all electric vehicles available in the North American market today."

Engadget has more on the 7.6kW unit...

  • That level of power is "not going to make you skip Electrify's own 150kW or 350kW chargers. It should, however, ensure that your car is topped up before you leave for work in the morning."
  • "Built-in WiFi helps you check in on your charging and, eventually, adapt to power companies' demand-based programs."

Controversy: The Guardian writes, "The Royal Shakespeare Company is to end its sponsorship deal with BP after growing opposition to big oil’s involvement with the UK’s leading theatre company."

  • BP, in a statement, said it was "disappointed and dismayed" that the 8-year relationship is ending early.