Welcome back! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,151 words, ~ 4 minute read.
Situational awareness: "Oil rose by more than 3% to above $63 a barrel on Thursday after Iran shot down a U.S. military drone, raising fears of a military confrontation between Tehran and Washington," Reuters reports.
Onto music. On this date in 1975, Neil Young released the harrowing masterpiece "Tonight's the Night," which provides today's intro tune...
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios
A big question now that EPA has finalized climate regulations for power plants is how much they'll constrain a future president — especially a potential Democrat that wants to act way more aggressively.
Driving the news: Yesterday EPA issued modest rules requiring state plans to make coal-fired units more efficient over time, but lacks binding CO2-cutting targets.
Why it matters: Achieving deep cuts will eventually require going beyond the power industry, where market forces are already shoving coal aside, as well as speeding up power-sector cuts.
The big picture: Yesterday's rule breaks with the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP) that claimed far broader Clean Air Act powers to drive changes in electricity systems by giving states wide latitude to decide how to meet emissions requirements.
What to watch: As the rule moves into litigation, look for whether the legal dust settles in a way that could....
What they're saying: "EPA’s narrow approach to the power sector rulemaking could pose hurdles to future regulation of other sectors under a differently minded future administration," the consultancy ClearView Energy Partners said in a note.
Michael Gerrard of Columbia Law School tells me a lot depends on how narrowly or broadly courts rule in upholding the Trump plan, if that's what happens. He writes via email...
"[I]f the courts take the occasion to opine more broadly on EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act, that could have broader impacts."
"[I]f the courts agree with the Trump EPA's analysis that reducing greenhouse gas emissions confers relatively small benefits, more explanation could be needed from a later EPA about the need for GHG regulation not just of power plants about also other sources."
Ann Carlson of UCLA School of Law is watching the future of judicial doctrines that give agencies latitude to interpret statutes (known as Chevron deference). Carlson tells me via email...
"[The question of whether the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to adhere to doctrines of judicial deference (especially Chevron) is an open one but assuming that the doctrine remains in place, then I'm not sure that the [new] rule really limits the power of a future administration to impose stronger regulations on particular emitting sectors, including the power sector itself."
"Similarly, I don't think that the new rule limits EPA power to regulate other sectors more stringently."
But, but, but: Carlson sees "big looming questions" about how the Supreme Court and its expanded conservative majority will view Clean Air Act powers more generally.
Environmental expert Dallas Burtraw of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future tells me that yesterday's action poses a "dilemma" for various industries.
President Trump’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Knight Craft, publicly broke with the White House Wednesday, telling her Senate confirmation hearing that climate change "poses real risks," USA Today first reported.
Between the lines: If confirmed by the Senate, Craft will represent U.S. interests at the UN, an organization that recognizes climate change as a "potentially irreversible threat to human societies," per the Paris agreement. The Washington Post points out that she stopped short of endorsing that agreement.
Of note: Her husband is CEO of the coal company Alliance Resource Partners, and per Reuters, Craft said she'd recuse herself from coal-related U.S. talks.
The big picture: "Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are now mainstream options in the power sector, with an increasing number of countries generating more than 20% of their electricity with solar PV and wind," notes a new report from the group REN21.
Threat level: While renewable power is increasingly mainstream, the report from REN21 — a coalition of governments, NGOs, industry groups and more — flashes a bunch of warning signs.
The bottom line: "The lack of ambitious and sustained policies to drive decarbonisation in the heating, cooling and transport sectors means that countries are not maximising the benefits of the transition — including cleaner air and energy security — for their populations," states the Renewables 2019 Global Status Report.
Go deeper: The global transition to clean energy, explained in 12 charts (Vox)
That's the record number of consecutive weeks with U.S. crude oil exports above 3 million barrels per day in weekly (albeit preliminary) data, per the Energy Information Administration.
Why it matters: It's another sign of the U.S. becoming a force in export markets as 3 million-plus becomes the new normal (they've been at that level for 5 out of the last 6 weeks in fact).
Go deeper: The shale-driven export surge