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Jan 16, 2019

Axios Generate

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And happy birthday to Sade, who brings us today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Today's a high-profile day on Capitol Hill


Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler will appear before the Senate's environment panel this morning as lawmakers vet his nomination to formally get the job. But he might not be the only one trying out.

What we're watching: The hearing will be a high-profile chance for lawmakers to grill the EPA boss on controversial policies, like the proposal to replace Obama-era climate rules.

  • Also of interest, though, is that several Democrats in the early 2020 White House mix sit on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
  • If they show up, the hearing could provide a window onto how they're positioning themselves on climate and the environment.

Senators running or weighing the race, who are on the panel, include...

  • Kirsten Gillibrand, who began her campaign yesterday
  • Bernie Sanders
  • Cory Booker
  • Jeff Merkley (though he's a longshot)

Why it matters: This committee could become the panel to watch, especially if more of its members follow Gillibrand into the race.

  • Aides for Gillibrand, Sanders and Booker did not respond to inquiries about whether their bosses will be there.
  • A Merkley aide confirmed his attendance.

Go deeper:

2. Why global solar spending fell
Chart from BloombergNEF report showing annual worldwide investment in low-carbon energy sources

Worldwide investment in renewables and other low-carbon energy sources dipped 8% last year to $332 billion, according to the consultancy BloombergNEF.

Why it matters: New year-end data show that the decline was driven by a sharp 24% drop in spending on solar projects, driven by 2 forces...

  • The ongoing drop in capital costs for the technology, fueled last year by a glut of panels on the market.
  • Policy changes in China, the world's biggest market, that lowered federal support and helped cut investment there by around half to $40 billion.

What they're saying: In an accompanying statement, BNEF analyst Jenny Chase notes that 2018 was a "difficult year" for panel manufacturers and developers in China, but adds...

"However, we estimate that global PV installations increased from 99GW in 2017 to approximately 109GW in 2018, as other countries took advantage of the technology’s fiercely improved competitiveness."

The big picture: Worldwide investment in clean energy has soared over the past 15 years from less than $62 billion in 2004 to consistently far above $300 billion over the last half-decade.

  • But while renewables deployment is surging, it's happening alongside rising global energy demand and growing fossil fuel use too.
  • That means the renewables surge isn't yet big enough to start sending global CO2 emissions downward.

By the numbers: A few other snapshots of the global picture...

  • Offshore wind investment grew by 14% to nearly $26 billion, while onshore wind grew slightly to around $101 billion.
  • Corporate R&D spending slipped 6% to roughly $21 billion, but government R&D rose 4% to $15 billion.
  • "Global venture capital and private equity investment jumped 127% to $9.2 billion, the highest since 2010," BNEF says.

Go deeper: See more of the data here.

3. What's next for the U.S. oil boom
Screenshot of EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook

Remember that brief moment in late 2018 when the U.S. became a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products combined?

What's next: "EIA forecasts that net imports will continue to fall to an average of 1.1 million [barrels per day] in 2019, and to less than 0.1 million b/d in 2020," per EIA's outlook published Tuesday.

  • "In the fourth quarter of 2020, EIA forecasts the United States will be a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products, by about 0.9 million b/d," they found. (emphasis added)

Why it matters: That factoid is a sign of the country's re-emergence as a global oil powerhouse and increasingly prominent exporter as domestic production has surged.

  • Crude oil production is already at record levels of roughly 11.5 million barrels per day and climbing. EIA sees U.S. crude output averaging 12.1 million daily barrels this year and 12.9million in 2020, cracking the 13 million mark late in the year.

What they're saying: "Steady growth from non-OPEC countries, including the United States, headlines the forecast for global crude oil production through 2020. We expect the United States to remain the world’s largest producer," EIA administrator Linda Capuano said in a statement alongside the the report.

But, but, but: Here is where I'm contractually obligated to note that the U.S. will still remain very tethered to the whims of global markets, and net exports doesn't — and, logistically, shouldn't — mean the country won't still import lots of crude.

Go deeper:

4. Big Oil makes its move on shipping regs

America’s largest oil-industry groups are launching a new coalition to lobby in support of new global standards that tighten air pollution regulations for shipping fuel, Axios' Amy Harder reports.

Why it matters: This is a classic example of business using regulation to gain a competitive edge over others.

  • Many of America’s oil and refining companies have been anticipating these rules — set a decade ago by an arm of the UN that oversees maritime issues — and moving toward low-sulfur kinds of diesel fuel.

Details: The Coalition for American Energy Security launched Tuesday. Although the organization doesn't have a website yet, it has the following members and plans to grow further...

  • American Petroleum Institute
  • American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers
  • Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, which counts Continental Resources (whose CEO Harold Hamm is close to President Trump) as a leading member
  • United Steel Workers

The big picture: The global standards are forecast to increase prices of diesel, gasoline and oil in the coming years, according to an EIA analysis Tuesday.

  • The analysis finds that the price impacts will be “most acute in 2020 and diminish over time.”

Read more of Amy's full story.

5. More petro-notes: Shutdown and blockchain

Policy: The Interior Department is bringing back dozens of employees to work on offshore drilling policy efforts during the shutdown, including plans to make more areas available for leasing, according to several reports. Per The Hill...

"The employees are working in four areas: geological testing for offshore oil and natural gas in the Atlantic Ocean; the administration’s proposal last year to allow offshore drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans; environment review for that proposal and preparations for two upcoming offshore drilling lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico."

Tech: The Financial Times reports, "Chevron, Total and Reliance Industries are backing a new digital platform for crude oil trading based on blockchain and launched late last year, joining a consortium of investors that includes BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Equinor as well as traders Gunvor, Mercuria and Koch Supply & Trading."

6. Study: EPA rule would boost some states' CO2

EPA's plan to regulate carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants would lead to CO2 emissions increases as high as 9% in 18 states in 2030, despite driving a modest nationwide cut, a new paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters concludes.

Why it matters: In an accompanying blog post, two of the authors, both from Resources For the Future, argue that the findings highlight a legal vulnerability in EPA's Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule...

"Our new study ... calls into question whether the ACE rule can meet the legal requirement of a best system of emission reduction under the Clean Air Act given that it is projected to cause an increase in CO2 emissions at 28 percent of the regulated plants."

The big picture: The Trump administration proposed the rule in August to replace a more sweeping Obama-era climate regulation that never took effect. But the study projects that its push for greater coal-plant efficiency could lead to a "emissions rebound effect" that boosts overall CO2 and conventional pollution from some power stations.

  • "When a plant becomes more efficient, it has lower variable costs, and is likely to run more frequently and have a longer lifetime," the post states.

The bottom line: From the underlying paper...

"Although the ACE reduces the emissions intensity of coal plants, it is expected to increase the number of operating coal plants and amount of coal-fired electricity generation, with 28 percent of model plants showing higher CO2 emissions in 2030 compared to no policy."
"We also find that the ACE increases SO2 and NOX emissions in nineteen states and twenty states plus DC, respectively, in 2030 compared to no policy, with implications for air quality and public health."
6. Following up: Green New Deal fault lines

And a couple more notes on climate politics and the Green New Deal...

What they're saying: The new episode of Energy 360°, a Center for Strategic and International Studies podcast, explores why some activists aligned with the GND movement are not emphasizing carbon pricing.

  • "You certainly get a sense that within the climate change realm, there is a desire to find something that is a little bit more direct and certain than a market-based approach," notes CSIS' Sarah Ladislaw.
  • Go deeper: Carbon taxes are facing new troubles on the left

Over at Vox, David Roberts suggests a truce in the debate over a goal of 100% renewable power (one rallying cry of GND backers) vs. 100% carbon-free power. He writes...

"If environmentalists believe that renewable energy will triumph in the end, they lose nothing by allowing the GND to simply target 'carbon-free energy.' In practice, that will prove to be renewables, right? So what’s the problem?"

In the states: Greentech Media reports on another sign of the rising cachet of the Green New Deal tag, which of course isn't a trademark and can mean whatever a given backer wants.

  • They write that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office announced "New York’s Green New Deal" on Tuesday.
  • "The plan, outlined in Cuomo's 2019 Justice Agenda, calls for a 'globally unprecedented' ramp-up in renewable energy deployments as New York seeks to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040, and ultimately eliminate its entire carbon footprint," Greentech reports.