Feb 28, 2019

Axios Generate

Good morning! Ben is out sick today, so you're stuck with me. What are you liking — or would like changed — about our newsletter? Let me know by replying to this email.

OK, let's dive in.

1 big thing: GOP coming back around on climate

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

After a decade of either rejecting or ignoring climate change, some congressional Republicans are beginning to publicly acknowledge it, and a few are even considering policies addressing it.

The big picture: Democrats’ push on the Green New Deal, coupled with other trends like growing public concern about climate change, is compelling Republicans to be for something — anything — on the issue.

Driving the news: In hearings held over the last month by Democrats now controlling the House, numerous Republicans have acknowledged human activity is driving Earth’s temperature up and signaled they want to look for policies addressing it.

  • “Climate change is real. The need to protect the environment is real,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who also recently wrote an op-ed on the issue with 2 other senior Republicans.
  • He went on to say that it must be balanced with protecting jobs, and “Republicans on this committee are ready, willing and able to have serious, solutions-oriented discussions.”
  • “I think we’ve heard on the panel, and most Republicans and Democrats agree, that the climate is changing, and industrial activity is a major contributor to that,” said Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.). “But I think the reinforcement is we strongly disagree with solutions on how that might be.”
  • He is working on legislation that could offer “bipartisan climate change solutions,” per his office.
  • GOP Reps. John Shimkus of Illinois, Billy Long of Missouri, Bill Flores of Texas, Buddy Carter of Georgia, Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, and Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio all have made similar comments.
“Some of them are becoming concerned about the environment. Others are becoming concerned if they go to a town hall and they don’t have any answer. Change comes from the bottom up. It never comes top down. It is bottom up. The public is beginning to say: We want something done."
— John Kasich, former GOP governor of Ohio, in Axios interview

One level deeper: So far, the lawmakers' words are mostly that and not backed up by legislation, though some ideas are being floated that focus on innovation.

Yes, but: These position shifts are unlikely to satisfy most Democrats who want far more aggressive policies, and it’s unclear if this shift will eventually be backed by a continuous and broad effort to collaborate on policy.

  • And virtually all Republicans oppose the GND, given its sweeping progressive focus — including universal health care, a federal jobs guarantee and a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The other side: A small group of House Republicans, who are part of the Congressional Western Caucus, held a forum and press conference Wednesday opposing the GND. Conservative advocates expressed concern about Republicans supporting climate policies in response to the GND.

Go deeper: Read my whole post here.

2. Australian official talks climate and U.S. frenemy

The world's largest coal-export terminal in Newcastle, Australia. Photo: Amy Harder/Axios

During a recent trip to Australia, I caught up with Matt Canavan, whose position in the Australian government is similar to that of our Interior Secretary.

Why it matters: As Australia’s minister for resources, Canavan is responsible for this nation’s rich natural resources, including coal but also wind and solar, which are growing rapidly.

  • When we spoke, he had just finished trips in Queensland and other parts of the country facing extreme weather, some of which scientists say is growing more extreme due to rising global temperatures.

Key quotes:

  • On climate science: "Linking every weather event to climate change is just not good science."
  • On America: "I’ve met with U.S. government officials a number of times. We have a shared interest in seeing the adoption and promotion of cleaner fossil fuels in the Asia Pacific region. … I also always say we’re a competitor with the United States in the gas market, and increasingly coal, too."
  • On renewable energy: "Let’s just keep our own lights on first … Our energy system needs significant reform and investment, particularly non-renewable and non-intermittent."

Go deeper: Read the whole Q&A here.

3. Lower Chinese graphite production could mean higher battery prices

The Jin Yang graphite factory in Mashan, China. Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Expert Voices contributor Maggie Teliska writes ... China has steadily been forcing producers of graphite — a material commonly used in smartphone and laptop batteries — to close in response to rising pollution, as mining companies fail to improve the conditions of local land and water resources.

Why it matters: Batteries account for roughly 30% of the global demand for graphite, and China produces 70% of the world's graphite supply. As demand for the material continues to grow, battery prices may rise, which would impede progress toward the $100 per kilowatt hour lithium-ion target that many companies, including Tesla and BMW, are looking to achieve.

Background: Lithium-ion batteries transport electrons through the use of cathode and anode materials, the latter of which is commonly constructed of graphite. The expanding electric vehicle market has been a major contributor to the global rise in graphite demand.

Go deeper: Read her whole post.

Teliska is a a technical specialist at Caldwell Intellectual Property Law, an intellectual property law firm

4. Lightning round: ethanol, mining, PG&E, energy outlook

Ethanol: The EPA is expected to finish by summer a controversial regulation encouraging the blending of more ethanol into gasoline, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Wednesday, per Reuters.

  • My thought bubble: Expect these types of twists and turns to wear on until at least 2022, which is when the original law laying out the renewable fuel standard stopped issuing quotas. That's when this issue will get really heated.

Mining moves: Mining giant Rio Tinto has paid shareholders $13.5 billion in dividends, the most in its nearly 150-year history, per the Australian Your Money publication.

  • One level deeper: The company is now touting itself as the world's only major fossil-fuel free mining company, aiming to capitalize on the minerals needed for cleaner energy technologies, according to its newly released climate-change strategy.

PG&E delays: The California utility repeatedly delayed repairing a high-voltage transmission that's the main suspect behind California's deadliest wildfire, the WSJ reports (subscription).

  • My thought bubble: PG&E's troubles will likely prompt other utilities to more quickly repair long-overdue safety overhauls out of fear they could be held liable for deadly impacts from wildfires.

Energy outlook: The head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol, is on Capitol Hill today to testify about his organization's annual Energy Outlook. He's also stopping by the Energy Department to hold an event with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

  • What we're watching: To what extent Birol raises concerns about oil-price volatility, or President Trump's Twitter efforts to influence prices and OPEC.

EPA vote: The Senate is expected to vote — and approve — Andrew Wheeler as Trump's permanent EPA administrator.

  • The bottom line: This won't change much, but it may give Wheeler a bit more latitude to pursue his agenda.
5. Quote of the day


“Unfortunately you haven’t been taught about photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is where plants take carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. That’s a problem in today’s world. We haven’t taught kids exactly what’s going on in America and in science.”
— Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), to a young person asking about what he was doing to address climate change

Driving the news: Gosar made the comment at a Capitol Hill press conference Wednesday opposing the GND, a broad progressive policy aimed at drastically reducing GHG emissions but also pushing other broad goals, like universal health care and a federal jobs guarantee.

Fact check, per Axios science editor Andrew Freedman: The issue isn’t photosynthesis. We’re putting more carbon dioxide into the air each year than plants, trees and oceans can suck out. That is what’s causing rising global temperatures. CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in at least 800,000 years, and the driving reason is human activity.