May 1, 2019

Axios Generate

Good morning! Ben Geman is out dealing with a family matter, so we're going to keep this short with the top news until he returns.

Situational awareness: Ahead of the Trump administration's May 2 deadline to ban Iranian oil purchases, Iran's oil minister said that bringing the nation's oil exports to zero "is an illusion," WSJ's Summer Said tweets.

1 big thing: Fighting over lofty climate targets

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday that Beto O’Rourke’s new climate change plan isn’t aggressive enough, especially when compared with the Green New Deal — but in fact neither are tethered to economic reality or precedent.

Driving the news: Backers of the GND, including the New York Democrat, are pushing a goal of net zero U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as soon as 2030. The new plan by O’Rourke, one of numerous Democratic presidential hopefuls, calls for that by 2050.

Reality check: Those plans would require a revolutionary level of political, economic and technological change to occur in an amount of time that's unprecedented in American history.

The big picture: Oil, natural gas and coal make up a little more than 80% of America’s energy consumption. These fossil fuels emit the lion's share of GHG emissions, so they either need to be eliminated or their emissions need to be captured to reach the progressives' goals.

  • AOC and other backers of aggressive climate change action say unprecedented, transformative change is exactly what’s needed and that it’s political stonewalling, led by Republicans and industry, that’s stopping America from such a big transformation.

One metric to gauge reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the rate of decarbonization of the U.S. economy. That’s a reduction in the ratio of CO2 emissions to GDP.

  • Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado environmental studies professor, did some quick math to assess what emission reduction targets would be required for O’Rourke’s plan and the GND, pushed by the Sunrise Movement group.

By the numbers, per Pielke:

  • The GND (targeting 2030) would need an annual 27% decarbonization rate while O'Rourke's plan (aiming for 2050) would need an annual 11% decarbonization rate, he tells Axios.
  • Yes, but: The annual average rate of decarbonization in the U.S. from 1992 to 2018 was only 2.4% — and the estimated rate of decarbonization in 2018 is 0%.
  • Of note: Pielke's analysis is based off data and projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Congressional Budget Office.

Where it stands: O’Rourke’s plan is arguably more detailed than the Green New Deal, whose backers say a more detailed plan is set for early next year.

  • Several major elements of O’Rourke’s plan would require new legislation on Capitol Hill, including its call for a "legally enforceable" standard for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, Ben wrote Monday.
  • The reliance on Capitol Hill for key elements heavily clouds its prospects due to widespread GOP resistance to aggressive emissions policies.

What we’re watching: To what extent other Democratic candidates, especially Joe Biden, seek to chase these lofty targets (or not, as Ben suggested Tuesday).

Go deeper: Democrats’ left turn on climate change

2. Oil markets shaking off Venezuela


Oil markets shrugged off the instability in Venezuela for what's becoming a pretty common reason: U.S. production strength, Axios' Nick Johnston writes.

Why it matters: Rioting in the streets of Caracas and escalating sanctions on Iran would typically be enough to rattle markets. But oil fell "amid signs of a sharp increase in U.S. crude inventories," per Bloomberg.

Driving the news: Oil markets have "keenly watched oil producer Venezuela, where opposition leader Juan Guaido called for an uprising against President Nicolas Maduro. Many observers fear this could lead to escalating violence and further disruptions to crude supply," Reuters reports via CNBC.

  • Futures fell as much as 1.7% in New York this morning, according to Bloomberg.
  • Brent crude was trading down around $71.83 and WTI at roughly $63.37 this morning.

The bottom line: "The glut alarm bells are ringing louder in the U.S.," an analyst told Reuters.

3. Here's how big the climate issue is for Dems

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

We knew it was important, of course, but a new CNN poll released yesterday shows it's solidly in the top of Democratic primary voters' issues for 2020, Axios' David Nather reports.

By the numbers:

  • 96% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say it's very or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to promise aggressive action on climate change.
  • That's the highest of any of the issues polled, beating other Democratic favorites like Medicare for All (91%), executive action to tighten gun laws (85%), and tuition-free public college (78%).
  • Most Democrats feel strongly about it. 82% said it was very important to address climate change, while 14% said it was somewhat important.

Yes, but: A big caveat is that the Democratic sample was small — just 411 voters (it was a subsample in a larger national poll). That means the margin of error was 5.9 percentage points.

  • That's large enough that we can't be sure climate is the number one issue for Democrats. It could just as easily be health care, which isn't far behind.
  • But we can safely say that it's one of the top issues — higher than most other priorities — and that Democrats are passionate about it.

The bottom line: With numbers like these, it's no surprise that O'Rourke and Jay Inslee have put climate policy at the top of their agendas. And it will likely be harder for other candidates to get through the primary without spelling out detailed policies of their own.

4. Lightning round: EU carbon tax, Aramco, a/c, Anadarko

France delays nuclear power shutdowns to tackle climate change (FT)

  • What we're watching: French leaders are instead proposing a European Union carbon tax that would target imports from China and the U.S, the FT article notes.

Saudi Aramco looks to become a big natural gas player (Bloomberg)

  • Between the lines: Gas helps the petroleum-rich company and nation to diversify, if only partially, from crude oil as a hedge against a world that drastically cuts GHG emissions and doubles down on cleaner-burning natural gas as part of the solution.

How air conditioners could actually help address climate change (Scientific American)

  • Where it stands: Right now, an anticipated big demand in a/c is set to exacerbate climate change.

Bid for Anadarko Petroleum is a watershed moment for Permian exploration (Forbes)

  • The big picture: "At the heart of this somewhat unequal tussle [between Chevron and Occidental] is the dominance of the Permian Basin which is well and truly witnessing a watershed moment. The largest oilfield in the U.S. spans portions of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico; an area that is now being increasingly eyed by the oil majors."
5. Number of the day: 2,700


That’s the number of times more energy a massive pumped hydro project under construction in Australia can store compared to the world’s largest battery that Tesla built in South Australia in 2017.

Driving the news: The Australian government recently announced final approval for the pumped hydro project, which moves water from one big reservoir to another in mountains, in order to generate hydropower on demand as a clean-burning backup for when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

  • If built, the hydro project could produce the same power output as two large nuclear reactors and sustain that for a full week, according to Harvard University electricity expert Jesse Jenkins.
  • But, Jenkins nonetheless predicts it will remain a niche technology in most regions around the world given its location constraints.

What’s next: Australia holds national elections on May 18, and if more left-leaning politicians gain power, the Down Under nation could implement policies mandating 50% renewable electricity by 2030.

Go deeperThe key to unlocking wind and solar: Making it last