October 11, 2017

Good morning! There's a lot going on, so let's get to it. A reminder that your (confidential) tips and feedback are always welcome at [email protected].

EPA's proposal to cut CPP is the start...

By now you probably know that Environmental Protection Agency finally unveiled its proposal to nix the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a 2015 rule — which never took effect — that would have mandated cuts in carbon emissions from power plants.

A few takeaways...

Between the lines: The CPP is the most closely watched of the Obama-era climate rules, but it probably gets more attention than it deserves when it comes to the total U.S. emissions picture.

  • Power plants spit out slightly under a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the rule would have forced a reduction of their carbon dioxide emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030, making it a pillar of the U.S. pledge in the nonbinding Paris agreement to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 26%–28% below 2005 levels by 2025.
  • Multiple forces have for years been cutting power plant emissions already by pushing the electricity away from coal and towards natural gas and renewables, like cheap gas, falling wind and solar costs and state green power mandates. The U.S. is already slightly over halfway to the CPP target.

Yes, but: It's a key backstop that would have required continued emissions cuts if other forces lose their punch.

  • That's important because other Trump administration policies and proposals — like the DOE push to provide new compensation to coal plants or walking away from Paris — could alter the pace and trajectory of reductions. (Last night Politico posted a useful rundown of White House policies to aid fossil fuels in power generation and elsewhere.)

Be smart: Let's turn it over for a moment to climate expert Varun Sivaram of the Council on Foreign Relations...

  • "The reason this is important, from a climate perspective, is that without some forcing function to shut down coal plants, the U.S. probably can't meet its Paris target," he tells Axios in an email.
  • "In other words, the CPP, or some other policy that shuts down coal plants over the next eight years, is a necessary but insufficient condition to meet our climate commitment," Sivaram adds, noting auto mileage standards and other forces.
  • The CPP, he says, has little to do with continued increases in wind and solar deployment. He points out potential new tariffs on solar panel equipment would be "far more harmful" to solar growth than nixing the EPA rule.

...of a long fight ahead

We'll be covering this for a while, but for the moment here's a few other things to watch and consider...

The end of the beginning: Yesterday's proposal marks the start of a long, contentious regulatory fight, which will be followed by a long, contentious legal fight.

Pruitt's strategy: EPA boss Scott Pruitt, in proposing to repeal a rule he said overstepped the bounds of the Clean Air Act, held out the prospect of replacing it with something much more modest — at some point.

Yes, but: As the The New York Times points out, nobody is expecting that anytime soon, if ever. The aggressive strategy — moving to kill the rule, while slow-walking a replacement — could make some in industry nervous by creating a regulatory vacuum.

  • "Until — and unless — EPA offers a replacement, today's proposal would appear to constitute 'rip-it-up' deregulation, which creates the risk of sacrificing long-term investment stability (i.e., a rule that industry can live with and plan around) for short-term political punch," said Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, in an email exchange with Axios.

The global picture: One question mark is whether the move has any effect on the already vague U.S. standing in international climate circles. To a large degree it's already baked into the cake, because the White House has for months signaled its plans.

I asked Andrew Light, who was a senior State Department aide under former President Obama, about how the action could affect the next round of UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, next month.

  • "In and of itself this announcement doesn't impinge on U.S. positions on finishing the transparency provisions of the Paris Agreement and other issues on the table, but it certainly doesn't help either," he said, referring to the U.S. role, established before the Trump administration, in helping to craft the system for monitoring nations' actions under the deal.
  • "If there is a best case scenario, then it would be something like a more vocal appeal between now and Bonn by industry calling for the EPA to come up with some kind of legitimate replacement to the Clean Power Plan. That could help to indicate that there are voices other than the environmental community which want to get the U.S. back in the game," said Light, currently a senior fellow at the World Resources Institute.

Oil policy and market notes

On Capitol Hill: A House Natural Resources subcommittee will gather this afternoon to review legislation that would:

  • Expand offshore oil-and -gas leasing.
  • Bolster revenue-sharing with states that have production off their shores (or might in the future).
  • Nix an Obama-era Arctic drilling standards regulation finalized last year.
  • Study whether to re-combine the offshore leasing and safety regulation functions at the Interior Department that were split apart after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Reminder: Interior is already weighing whether to merge those agencies, which we looked at here and here.

Crystal ball: Via Reuters, the president of consultancy Facts Global Energy said: "Oil prices will remain relatively low in the next year or two as supplies remain ample despite ongoing cuts by OPEC, although potential new sanctions by the United States against Iran pose upside risk to the market."

Nope: French multinational banking giant BNP Paribas announced Wednesday that it will "will no longer do business with companies whose principal business activity is the exploration, production, distribution, marketing or trading of oil and gas from shale and/or oil from tar sands."

  • BNP also said it won't finance oil-and-gas projects in the Arctic. Bloomberg has more.

Back to the future: "BP announced Tuesday that it will be reintroducing its Amoco brand that was last seen more than a decade ago in the United States," ABC reports.

More on the "supply gap" theory: Yesterday we had a blurb about the interview Jonathan Chanis of Securing America's Future Energy did with Platts on the notion that the oil industry hasn't invested enough in big new projects to prevent a supply crunch in a few years.

Now Chanis has published a new piece that plunges into the topic. One interesting line:

  • "If anything, the introduction of U.S. short-cycle oil through hydraulic fracturing now creates a false sense of security and inadvertently aids OPEC because it makes it easy and profitable for many companies to defer these longer cycle mega investment projects."

Latest moves in the FERC showdown

A few tidbits on the Energy Department proposal that would boost revenues for coal and nuclear plants due to their "resilience and reliability" attributes...

Pump the brakes: The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), which is the main trade group for state power regulators, is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to slow down the process.

  • They want 90 days for initial comments in lieu of the looming Oct. 23 deadline.
  • Why it matters: FERC is getting lots of requests, but the appeal from a group representing regulators nationwide on the front lines of power oversight could carry weight.
  • In a newly available filing, the group tells FERC that the rule would create a "fundamental change" in the operation of wholesale electricity markets that would have "enormous impacts on rates and ratepayers."

To be sure: Energy secretary Rick Perry is using his authority to demand a quick initial process at FERC, so it's not clear whether or how much NARUC and other parties can slow things down in the near term. However, FERC is an independent agency and ultimately not bound to produce or vote on any specific result.

Ready to rumble: While Energy secretary Rick Perry's proposal has faced pushback from critics who see an attempt to prop up politically favored energy sources, Perry went on the offensive yesterday.

  • In a burst of tweets, Perry defended the proposal as "proactive, reasonable, and transparent."
  • He circulated a series of quotes from companies and industry interests praising the move.

Mark your calendars: The DOE proposal is certain to be the hottest topic when Perry faces questions on the Hill Thursday and FERC chairman Neil Chatterjee holds a media roundtable Friday morning.

Go deeper: This S&P Global Market Intelligence piece notes that proposal would somewhat narrowly benefit coal-fired power plants in the region of the PJM Interconnection, which oversees wholesale power markets in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia and several other nearby states.

  • "The way Perry's request was structured, most of the coal plants eligible to benefit from the proposed rule are in the PJM Interconnection, where three producers — Murray Energy Corp., Alliance Resource Partners LP and Peabody Energy Corp. — delivered a combined 42% of the market's coal in 2016," the story states.
  • It points out that CEOs of Murray and Alliance were major supporters of Trump's campaign.

On my screen: climate change data, Puerto Rico, EVs

Dive in: We covered some of this recently, but yesterday the International Monetary Fund fully released its latest World Economic Outlook that has a whole chapter devoted to climate change. It's got all kinds of useful data and charts.

  • We've got a version of one of them above, created by my colleague Andrew Witherspoon.

Puerto Rico: My colleague Sam Baker summarizes the deadly consequences of the continued lack of electricity in the wake of Hurricane Maria as reported by NYT.

Electric vehicles: A couple of new Morgan Stanley research notes delve into the need to build out charging infrastructure to enable widespread commercial deployment of EVs.

  • "We recently met with the management team of an [original equipment manufacturer] that operates a substantial fleet of electric/automated vehicles, and the team indicated that the single biggest impediment to on-road testing of its vehicles is the inability to get sufficient electric power to charge its vehicle fleet," they note.
  • And via Bloomberg: A $2.7 trillion chasm stands between electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to make them popular. That's how much Morgan Stanley says must be spent on building the supporting ecosystem for EVs to reach its forecast of 526 million units by 2040."

Tesla: CNBC reports that "patience is starting to run thin among some investors" following the badly missed production target for the Model 3.

Coal battle: Later this morning billionaire Michael Bloomberg is slated to announce "new investment in programs dedicated to retiring coal plants," a representative said, noting the move in response to the EPA move to scuttle the Clean Power Plan.

  • In the past, Bloomberg has given tens of millions of dollars to the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign.

One cool (and useful) thing: Mapping U.S. power

This is cool: Carbon Brief, a U.K.-based website, has published a detailed, interactive, down-to-the-facility level look at how the U.S. electricity mix is changing.

  • The site offers many important charts and data, but let's start with the map above showing the landscape a decade ago versus today. You'll immediately see the appearance of lots of yellow and green dots, showing the growth of solar and wind. The tool also charts the rise of natural gas and coal's shrinking share (together those two sources supply roughly two-thirds of U.S. power).