Sep 13, 2019

Axios Generate

By Ben Geman
Ben GemanAmy Harder

Happy Friday! Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,038 words, ~ 4 minutes.

And, happy 35th birthday to Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense," a brilliant concert film that provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Parsing the debate's climate cameos

Democratic presidential hopefuls in the Sept. 12 debate. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Last night's Democratic primary debate in Houston had little discussion of climate and energy, but still lent itself to some takes (oh yeah!) from me...

1. It was kind of weird. Ok, staging a 10-person debate means some topics are inevitably downplayed or ignored. But when climate questions finally, and briefly, arrived 2 hours in, the first question was to Cory Booker about ... his vegan diet.

  • Yes, yes, yes the food system is super important to the climate, as we recently wrote about here.
  • But come on! They were in Houston, the oil capital of the U.S. Yet no questions on fracking — which several candidates want to ban — or on energy more broadly.
  • Why it matters: Energy production and use is by far the biggest carbon emissions source.
  • And the moderators didn't even bother trying to draw out contrasts between the candidates, even though their plans have some real differences.

2. Still, climate is stitched into the fabric now. Beyond the whopping 5 minutes or so of direct discussion, many candidates wove climate into their mini-stump speeches and answers on other topics. Some examples...

  • Pete Buttigieg hit President Trump for skipping the climate session at the recent G7 meeting as part of a broader foreign policy critique.
  • Frontrunner Joe Biden, in his wide-ranging opening statement, said "I refuse to postpone any longer taking on climate change."

3. This Elizabeth Warren answer caught my attention. The Massachusetts senator said "we've got to use all the tools" and then went on to say (emphasis added):

  • "One of the tools we need to use are our regulatory tools. I have proposed following [Washington] Governor Inslee, that we, by 2028, cut all carbon emissions from new buildings. By 2030, carbon emissions from cars. And by 2035, all carbon emissions from the manufacture of electricity."
  • But, but, but: All the candidates' plans are a mix of regulations and calls for major new legislation, and achieving those aggressive targets would almost certainly require the latter.

4. This Amy Klobuchar answer also caught my attention. The Minnesota senator said her background is a plus for confronting the "existential crisis of our time" because ... "I think having someone leading the ticket from the Midwest will allow us to talk about this in a different way and get it done."

2. Chart of the day: The public pulse on policy
Expand chart
Data: AP-NORC poll of 1,058 U.S. adults; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Speaking of things the candidates were barely asked about last night, the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research is out with some new polling on climate and energy.

Check out the chart above, which probably, among other things, helps explain why Democratic hopefuls focused on the primaries don't see political peril in making aggressive calls for thwarting oil-and-gas development.

The big picture: It's not pictured, but the pollsters also asked about President Trump's job performance on global warming and energy.

  • 74% of Republicans approve of how Trump is handling energy policy, compared to 11% of Democrats.
  • On climate, 66% of Republicans approve of Trump's performance, compared to 7% of Democrats.
3. What's new in the ANWR battle

The Interior Department moved closer to selling drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Thursday, just hours after Democrats signaled plans to thwart development if they regain control of Washington.

Driving the news: Interior released a final environmental analysis that calls for opening the refuge's entire coastal plain to development.

  • It calls for making 1.6 million acres for leasing — the most wide-ranging option reviewed.
  • It's a crucial step toward a lease sale Interior hopes to hold this year in the region, which opened under a late 2017 GOP tax law after decades of political battles.
  • However, any actual production is likely a decade away.

Why it matters: Several billion barrels of recoverable oil are thought to underlie the North Slope area that Interior is opening. But, environmentalists fear that drilling will harm the ecologically sensitive preserve that's home to caribou, polar bears and other species.

But, but, but: The House, along party lines, voted 225-193 yesterday to reimpose a drilling ban in the refuge. 4 Republicans voted for the new restrictions, while 5 Democrats opposed it.

  • What's next: The legislation isn't going anywhere in the Senate. But it's a reminder that Democrats will prioritize the topic if they take the Senate and White House next year.

Go deeper:

4. On my screen: The new Saudi oil boss

S&P Global Platts' Herman Wang has a good, on-the-ground look at new Saudi oil minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman.

Why it matters: Saudi Arabia is OPEC's most powerful producer, but faces all kinds of challenges amid dealing with modest oil prices, setting the stage for the Aramco IPO, and managing the cartel's production-limiting deal with Russia.

  • Wang watched him in Abu Dhabi, where this week he was at a big energy conference and the meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee of OPEC+.

The big picture: The story draws out the contrast between the new minister and ousted Khalid al-Falih.

  • While the technocratic al-Falih "favored more central bank-like communications," Abdulaziz has a more relaxed style.
  • "The prince brought a fresh, often jovial style to the JMMC proceedings, joking with reporters in the post-meeting press conference about his 'vintage' status as a veteran OPEC emissary and camel milk drinking competitions that he said he would contest with [OPEC Secretary General Mohammad] Barkindo."

But, but, but: The change is more than just stylistic, the story notes, pointing to Abdulaziz's "frank admission that Saudi Arabia and Russia, the two largest producers in the 24-country OPEC/non-OPEC coalition by far, had been dominating the group's deliberations for too long."

5. Methane regs change puts new jobs at risk

A natural gas filtration system in Mifflin Township, Pa. Photo: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

EPA's proposal to roll back methane regulations not only poses environmental risks, but also jeopardizes new leak-detection technologies that could create high-paying jobs nationwide, write Axios Expert Voices contributors Arvind Ravikumar and Morgan Bazilian.

Why it matters: Reducing emissions of methane — a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential up to 34 times that of carbon dioxide over 100 years — is critical to maintaining the emissions advantages of natural gas over coal, especially as U.S. LNG exports grow.

What's happening: A new generation of mobile sensors installed on trucks, drones and planes can detect methane leaks quickly and effectively, a study of the recent Mobile Monitoring Challenge found.

  • Scientists, oil and gas operators, and state agencies have been working together to update existing regulations.

The impact: Early-stage companies developing this technology are poised to expand, but scrapping methane regulations could freeze their growth in the oil and gas communities where sensors would be deployed.

Read more

Ravikumar is an assistant professor at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and a non-resident fellow at the Payne Institute at the Colorado School of Mines. Bazilian is a professor of public policy and director of the Payne Institute.

Ben GemanAmy Harder