Sep 18, 2017

Axios Generate

Good morning from New York City, where I'll be moderating an event this evening about offshore wind at Columbia University. If you're in town, shoot me a note!

My latest Harder Line column is timely and full of exclusive details, so you won't want to miss it. It's about the industry push to get President Trump to keep Obama's other big climate policy: the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol (which, by the way, turned 30 years old on Saturday).

My Axios colleague Ben Geman will get you up to speed on everything else after my column, including all the rumors around the higher profile Paris deal. Let's get to it...

Industry to Trump: Keep Obama climate policy

The world's biggest air conditioning and chemical companies are urging Trump to defend one of his predecessor's landmark climate policies, the Kigali amendment. So far it's working.

Why it matters: The policy, to phase down greenhouse gases emitted from refrigerants in appliances like air conditioners and refrigerators, is the only Obama-era climate policy Trump hasn't targeted for repeal. Companies, led by global chemical makers Honeywell and Chemours, are lobbying the administration to defend a regulation and support a global treaty on the issue, according to industry officials, administration officials and others involved in the issue.

Bottom line: Companies have spent millions complying with the policy and other similar standards around the world over the past several years — and they don't want that money to go to waste. To the industry and administration, this is more about financial investments than it is about climate change. That makes it non-controversial compared with the Paris climate deal.

Read the rest on the Axios stream here.

On our radar this week: solar trade decision, pipelines, nominations

Big decision: The U.S. International Trade Commission faces a Friday deadline to decide whether imported solar cells and modules are injuring the domestic panel manufacturing industry. If they decide the answer is yes — and most expect they will — the focus moves to what type of trade penalties the White House may decide to impose.

  • Why it matters: It's a big deal for the solar industry. The two manufacturers behind the petition say companies operating in the U.S. need relief from cheap Asian imports. But the wider solar industry is against the petition from Suniva and SolarWorld, arguing that the import penalties they're seeking would raise panel prices enough to wreak havoc on the economics of solar energy projects, posing a major threat to the sector's continued growth.

Nominations in focus, part 1: The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will vote Tuesday on White House nominees for two open slots on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, as well as picks for senior roles at the Interior and Energy Departments.

Nominations in focus, part 2: On Wednesday the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hear from nominees for several senior positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, including Bill Wehrum, Trump's pick to be the agency's top air pollution regulator.

  • Why it matters: Wehrum will play a major role in EPA's controversial and sure-to-be-litigated efforts to roll back Obama-era regulations to cut carbon emissions from power plants. Expect Wehrum and another nominee, general counsel pick Matthew Leopold, to get questions about the topic.

Pipeline push: Texans for Natural Gas is stepping up its pro-pipeline digital advocacy this week with the launch of a social media campaign via Twitter, internet ads, and a mobile-focused Facebook push that a spokesman tells Axios will run well into the six figures.

  • Why it matters: The industry-backed group is seeking to promote pipelines and emphasize their safety at a time when environmental groups have been organizing against specific infrastructure projects. For instance, the group will release a paper later this week that says pipelines support 165,000 jobs in Texas and "will contribute $374 billion in total economic output between 2014 and 2024."
What's new and what's not with Trump's Paris pullout, part 1

Buzz: The big question right now is whether this week's U.N. General Assembly meeting and sideline chatter will reveal...

  • If there's any real evidence that the White House is actually seeking a pathway to staying in the Paris agreement
  • How the U.S. might seek to work with other countries on the nexus of climate and energy more broadly, even as the White House keeps pushing ahead with pro-fossil fuels policies

What's next: White House economic advisor Gary Cohn is slated to host a breakfast meeting in New York this morning with energy and climate officials from other nations.

Where it stands: All heck broke loose over the weekend when the WSJ, citing comments by White House advisor Everett Eissenstat at a meeting in Canada, reported that the U.S. would not withdraw from Paris, a report the WSJ later softened.

  • The White House batted down the claim and reiterated that the U.S. is bailing (a process that actually takes years), "unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country," per the administration's official statement.
  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also reiterated versions of that statement on the Sunday talking head shows.

What's new: Nothing and everything. The Trump administration's position, spelled out in June, is that the U.S. is theoretically open to staying in Paris under some kind of revised terms.

  • What this means: Realistically that would probably mean a watered-down U.S. emissions pledge (reflecting the reality that Trump is abandoning Obama-era domestic climate rules), and maybe some kind of symbolic statement from other parties, because there's no appetite among other countries for rewriting the 2015 pact.

Yes, but:

The Cohn meeting could be a sign that the White House is perhaps cracking open the door a bit wider to the idea of staying.

What's new and what's not with Trump's Paris pullout, part 2

Continuing our discussion of comments surrounding the administration's stance on the Paris climate accord, is Andrew Light, who was a senior climate aide in Obama's State Department. He assesses the state of play and known unknowns in an email to Axios on Sunday evening...

  • "This round of comments ‎that we've heard over the weekend isn't anything new. The National Security Council and National Economic Council figures who argued for not withdrawing from the Paris Agreement have been saying for the last couple months that the administration may be willing to 're-engage,' and that this likely would come through the creation of a new U.S. pledge under Paris. It's good to see senior figures out there publicly talking about it."
  • "We don't, however, know two critical things. First, what are they thinking about in terms of a new pledge, the time line, and the process for creating it? Second, will President Trump ultimately support withdrawing the withdrawal? If I were invited to the breakfast with Gary Cohn, I'd be trying to find out as much as I could on those two issues," said Light, who is now a distinguished senior fellow with the World Resources Institute.

Thought bubble: There are two things to keep in mind here.

  • One is that for all the talk of "renegotiation," the primary deliberation is internal — under the Paris agreement, countries set their own emissions-cutting targets.
  • A second thing to watch as Cohn gathers with other countries' officials is what type of U.S. multilateral engagement might be in the offing that's technically outside of the formal U.N. framework, but meant to influence it or compliment it.

Flashback: There's precedent here. George W. Bush is correctly remembered for bailing on his campaign pledge to regulate carbon emissions. Less well remembered is that late in his presidency, Bush convened something called the "major economies meeting on energy security and climate change," the predecessor to the Obama administration-led Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate that met for years.

On my screen: electric cars, oil markets, microgrids

ICYMI: The New York Times published an important piece from China on Friday, reporting that General Motors chief executive Mary Barra "cautioned against the growing trend of officials in China and a number of other countries making plans to phase out sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered cars."

  • What to watch: Whether officials from other major automakers start pushing back against plans by France, the U.K. and other nations to set timetables in coming decades for the phaseout of internal combustion engines.

Oil markets: Bloomberg reports on concerns of a top International Energy Agency analyst that there's not enough industry spending on new supply projects to avoid a crunch in coming years. Here's what they quoted Neil Atkinson, head of IEA's oil markets division, as saying in Bahrain Sunday:

  • "There are still not enough signs of investment beginning to return, and that raises the risk of tightening of the market in the next five years and a risk to the stability of oil prices...There is at least a possibility of going back to the situation we had 10 years ago where oil prices were very, very high at a time when demand was growing."

In my ears: The latest edition of The Interchange, one of Greentech Media's podcasts, is a timely discussion of the role microgrids can play in helping to create resilience to powerful storms that wreak havoc on traditional power networks — and how some policymakers' reluctance to address climate change head-on in their planning (hello Florida) could affect deployment of the technology.

Arctic policy: The Washington Post reports on a quiet Interior Department effort to enable industry seismic testing to gauge oil resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, even though drilling in the Alaska region remains banned and would require an act of Congress to allow.