Feb 25, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Good morning, my latest column comes out of many conversations I've had with sources about how my beat has evolved under President Trump. Let me know what you think about this or anything else: amy@axios.com.

I'll share a glimpse of this, and then Ben Geman will get you up to speed on the rest of the news.

Situational awareness: Trump has resumed his pressure on OPEC as oil prices hover near their 2019 highs (although they remain far below their early October levels).

  • “Oil prices getting too high. OPEC, please relax and take it easy. World cannot take a price hike — fragile!” he tweeted Monday
1 big thing: The need to cover climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Climate change is on Washington’s front-burner for the first time in a decade — on Capitol Hill, on the campaign trail and, naturally, in newsrooms.

My thought bubble: Media companies are prioritizing climate change news like never before, and that includes Axios and my own coverage. This is the story about why and how much my focus has changed under Trump — which is to say a heck of a lot.

The intrigue: I joined Axios in April 2017 after 3 years covering energy, environment and climate change at the Wall Street Journal.

  • Numerous people, mainly executives, sources and others in the fossil-fuel industries, have remarked to me how much more I’m covering climate change at Axios than I was at the WSJ.

Details: Reporters often cover energy and climate change in separate silos. I am committed to a reporting track that considers the two inseparable. Of course, there are stories that don’t overlap, but with time inevitably limited in life, a reporter has to focus, so that’s mine.

Here are the highlights of the drivers of my shift over the last 2 years. Click here to go deeper on each and read my whole column.

President Trump

  • The media naturally gravitates to controversy, and Trump has made climate change more controversial than ever, given he denies there’s a problem at all, is rolling back aggressive climate-change policies of his predecessor, and is mulling a plan to rebut mainstream climate science.

Advancing science

  • I’m hesitant to make sweeping statements about extreme weather and rising global temperatures, but the scientific evidence of human-driven climate change is indeed mounting.

Public opinion

  • In some ways, media is simply a reflection of society, and polling shows the public is increasingly acknowledging this issue and see it as a threat.

Shifting energy landscape

  • We’re still seeing the significant impacts of this record oil and gas production today, as Trump reminded us in his State of the Union address.
  • In my mind, the next phase of this story looks at the long-term impacts of this energy boom, and that includes climate change.

Newsroom priorities

  • Newsrooms around America are ramping up coverage of climate change.

Go deeper:

2. Big this week: markets and climate politics

Energy: On Thursday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hear from International Energy Agency boss Fatih Birol on the agency's long-term energy outlook.

Climate: An array of hearings this week will highlight Democrats' focus on climate change, including...

  • A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee gathering Thursday to look at state, local and business commitments on climate.
  • A House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee hearing Tuesday on "How Federal Infrastructure Policy Could Help Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change."

Politics: Senate Republicans could bring up for a vote this week the Green New Deal (GND) resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).

  • Expect a fight as Republicans hope to put Democrats in a tough spot by forcing a vote on a plan that will likely show some fissures in the Democratic ranks.
  • At the same time, look for Democrats to put Republicans on record about human-induced global warming.

2020 run: Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday that he could announce his climate-focused White House run as soon as this week.

Editor's note: This post was corrected to show Sen. Ed Markey is co-sponsor of the GND resolution (not Sen. Chuck Schumer).

3. Petro-notes: LNG, China, Exxon

LNG: Via Reuters, "Global liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade will rise 11 percent to 354 million tonnes this year as new facilities increase supplies to Europe and Asia, Royal Dutch Shell said in an annual LNG report on Monday."

China: S&P Global Platts takes stock of the new U.S. decision to delay an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods, reporting that the deadline extension is "likely to boost trade flows of crude oil and LNG, especially if it leads to an easing of trade tensions in the longer term, traders and other market participants said Monday."

Exxon 1: "Exxon Mobil Corp. is partnering with Microsoft Corp. to crunch trillions of bits of data as the oil titan seeks to more than triple shale-oil production in the Permian Basin in less than a decade," Bloomberg reports.

Exxon 2: The Financial Times reported Sunday that Exxon is trying to block a shareholder resolution on emissions targets from coming up for a vote at the oil giant's annual meeting in May.

  • "The company has written to the Securities and Exchange Commission ... arguing that the proposal is misleading, amounts to an attempt to 'micro-manage the company' and has already been substantially implemented," per FT.
4. Looking at the Feinstein controversy

The viral footage of kids organized by the Sunrise Movement urging Sen. Dianne Feinstein to support the GND resolution says a lot about climate politics in 2019.

ICYMI: Feinstein attacked the resolution as impractical, talked up her long experience and recent re-election, and handed out her own less aggressive resolution.

  • The New York Times describes the encounter here.

Quick take: Friday's confrontation encapsulated competing schools of thought about how to make progress.

  • The GND is about laying down a marker in line with scientific studies that show a shrinking window to enact emissions cuts deep enough to avoid blowing way past the Paris agreement temperature goals.
  • It can't pass now and isn't meant to. But it's aimed at shifting the terms of debate on ambition and, backers hope, feasibility.

But, but, but: Feinstein, in contrast, talks about the Senate vote landscape, noting the absence of GOP support. "The key to good legislation is to tailor something you write so it can pass, and you can get a step ahead," she said.

The big picture: The Washington Post's Greg Sargent got here before me and puts its well, noting on Twitter, "At bottom this episode also showcased a deeper dispute over theories of change."

The intrigue: Sunrise took heat for heavily promoting an edited, roughly 2-minute version of the encounter.

  • Whether or not you think it made Feinstein look worse, this became a big part of the story — and one they could have avoided by calling attention to the full video from the get-go in their press release and tweets.

My thought bubble: It's the growing pains of a new movement, one which recently stumbled when AOC's office released and then pulled back a GND "FAQ" sheet that muddied the waters with claims absent from the underlying resolution.

Between the lines: It does reveal how much the GND has shifted the political plates on the left — Feinstein's resolution calls for achieving net-zero U.S. emissions by 2050 and until about 5 minutes ago, it would have been among the most aggressive plans ever floated by a mainstream Democrat.

5. The evolving White House climate plan
President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., on Aug. 21. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The White House is moving forward with a plan to create a National Security Council committee to question the findings of recent federal climate science reports, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

Why it matters, via Axios' Andrew Freedman: The panel idea, first reported last week, represents a frontal assault on climate science reports at a time when public opinion is moving to support cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

In this case, per the Post, the report the panel is most likely to investigate is the National Climate Assessment.

Details: The panel would be the reincarnation of an idea put forward by former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who pushed for a "red team-blue team" debate on the science modeled after military studies.

That proposal was squashed by then-White House chief of staff John Kelly. However, in the new version, there is no other team representing mainstream climate science — other than climate reports themselves.

  • The new panel will likely include William Happer, a physicist who sits on the National Security Council and has long argued that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit humanity — a view contradicted by thousands of studies.

Go deeper

6. Risk of Chinese intellectual property theft

Photo: Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Axios Expert Voices contributor Sarah E. Hunt sizes up the recent indictment of Chinese battery storage expert Hongjin Tan — a Chinese citizen and U.S. legal permanent resident — for stealing over $1 billion worth of trade secrets from his employer, U.S. petroleum company Phillips 66.

The big picture: The U.S. energy industry is the latest victim of corporate espionage and intellectual property (IP) theft by China — a growing threat to American energy innovation.

Details: Tan allegedly downloaded hundreds of confidential files, including information related to manufacturing a downstream energy market product, and planned to provide the information to his new Chinese employer.

Why it matters: Corporate espionage and IP theft is an expensive problem, costing the U.S. up to $600 billion annually.

  • If the Chinese government succeeds in stealing energy manufacturing and research secrets from the U.S., American energy companies may end up competing against their own technological innovations and ideas.
  • This would severely stunt U.S. innovation and global energy leadership.

Read more from Hunt, who's the co-founder and CEO of the Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.

Ben GemanAmy Harder