Axios Generate

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July 14, 2022

🥞 Good morning! Today's newsletter, edited by Mickey Meece, has a Smart Brevity count of 1,071 words, 4 minutes. 

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🎶 With a h/t to @Albumism, this week in 1994 Deee-Lite released its final album "Dewdrops in the Garden," which provides today's intro tune...

1 big thing: The copper crunch that's jeopardizing climate goals

Data: S&P Global; Note: Transmission and distribution category includes "Other power"; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

The race to deeply slash global carbon emissions will be hobbled without a surge in copper supply, but the ramp-up necessary faces big hurdles, a new report finds, Ben writes.

  • "Unless massive new supply comes online in a timely way, the goal of Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 will be short-circuited and remain out of reach," S&P Global concludes.

Why it matters: Copper is a crucial input for clean energy technologies including electric cars, batteries, renewable power, and the transmission and grid infrastructure needed alongside it.

The big picture: The report estimates increases needed for clean energy growth and continued demand for traditional uses, such as buildings.

  • Copper demand is slated to grow from about 25 million metric tons today to twice that amount by 2035, and substitution opportunities are very limited.
  • A gap between demand and supply starts to open in the middle of this decade and grows to roughly 10 million tons by 2035 under current mining and recycling trends.
  • "This would mean a 20% shortfall from the supply level required for the Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 target," S&P finds. A smaller gap still emerges under a "high ambition" scenario that models rosier assumptions about recycling and mining advances.

What they're saying: S&P vice chairman Dan Yergin, who led the project, chatted with me about copper's role in what he calls the transition from "Big Oil to big shovels" needed to confront climate change.

  • "Although...people write a lot about lithium, a lot about cobalt, copper is really essential because it's the metal of electrification and essential to the energy transition. And I think people have underestimated that," he said.
  • "This study is a wake-up call," said Yergin. He notes that while a number of governments and international organizations have expressed alarm, the study provides a granular look at the problem.
  • "It's one thing to express alarm, and another thing to say, well, how much do you need to do? And so we're not saying you're not going to get to the 2050 goals, but it's more challenging than people think and you have to focus on it now."

What's next: The report steers clear of specific policy recommendations, but one finding is that resource development and processing need to be easier.

  • "Regulatory and fiscal regimes need to be stable and predictable to encourage investment and facilitate construction of new mines, processing facilities, and recycling plants," it notes.
  • Given the typical decade-plus timeline for new mines, S&P finds that increasing utilization, capacity and lifespan of existing sites will be key in meeting nearer-term demand growth.

Of note: Mining companies supported the research, but S&P says the report is independent and told Reuters they did not see it prior to release.

2. SCOTUS ruling fuels red state SEC challenge

Illustration of an elephant’s trunk holding a gavel.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Red state attorneys general say the Supreme Court's recent greenhouse gas ruling ensures they'll challenge Securities and Exchange Commission rules that would compel corporate climate risk disclosures, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The attorney general of West Virginia, joined by 23 others, wrote to the SEC arguing its March proposal contradicts the SCOTUS decision that limited EPA's regulatory authority over power plants without explicit Capitol Hill authorization.

Why it matters: The new letter is an early concrete sign that the high court's ruling on power plants will spur challenges to other climate change regulations.

Zoom in: "If this sort of regulatory overreach does not constitute a sweeping policy judgment on a major question, then we struggle to see what would," they write.

What they're saying: The letter comes as multiple legal experts predict the SEC rule could face challenges under conservative justices' application of the "major questions" doctrine.

The doctrine asserts that in areas of major economic and political significance, agencies require explicit congressional blessing to act.

3. The U.S. is badly off-pace on emissions

Data: Rhodium Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. will fail to meet President Biden's climate targets under existing policies, per a new analysis that warns of dwindling time to get emissions on a steeper downward path, Ben writes.

Driving the news: The Rhodium Group just published its annual projections of U.S. greenhouse emissions under various assumptions about tech costs, oil prices, economic strength and so forth.

What they found: Under current trends — including existing federal and state policies — emissions will fall to 24%-35% below 2005 levels by 2030.

That's well off the 2021 U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement of a 50% cut by that date.

Why it matters: The latest snapshot arrives at a hinge point for U.S. policy.

  • It's unclear if Democrats can salvage a scaled-back version of President Biden's big low-carbon energy tax incentive plans.
  • If Democrats lose the House in the midterms — which looks quite likely — the plan will be essentially dead.
  • As we noted above, the Supreme Court last month limited EPA's running room on power plant regulations.

What they're saying: "The clock is ticking on Congress’s and the Biden administration’s efforts to enact meaningful policy changes to bend the emissions curve down further," the report states.

Read the analysis.

4. 🏃🏽‍♀️Catch up fast on tech finance

🔋Panasonic said it's investing $4 billion to build a major new battery factory in Kansas to supply Tesla and other automakers. AP has more.

⚡ "General Motors announced a 'coast-to-coast' network of fast electric vehicle chargers installed at Pilot and Flying J truck stops and managed by EV charging company EVgo," The Verge reports on the plan for 2,000 chargers.

💰 The Wall Street Journal reports that investors including BlackRock and NextEra Energy are pouring $300 million into Monolith.

The company has a Nebraska project to convert natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black.

5. Snapshots of a hot planet

Illustration of a weather thermometer on fire with a scorched top where the mercury has exploded.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

🇨🇳 "Scorching temperatures across China have turned deadly, with hospitals reporting patients dying of heat stroke, as officials begin curtailing power to factories to ensure sufficient supply for air-conditioners," Bloomberg reports.

  • Over 70 weather stations reported high temperatures above 42°C (almost 108°F) on Wednesday, it reports.

🇪🇺 "Extreme heat has...spread over Portugal, Spain and France, where highs have reached the triple digits, and the worst is yet to come. Heat index values, which factor in humidity, could top 115 degrees (46 Celsius)," the Washington Post reports.

  • The U.K.'s Met Office is warning of extreme and potentially record-breaking heat Sunday-Tuesday.

🇺🇸 "Texas's power grid operator on Wednesday took emergency measures to avoid rolling blackouts as soaring electricity demand threatened to outpace available supplies amid a stifling heatwave," Reuters reports.

Bonus: The Axios video team has an important look at how global warming will hit low-income and communities of color in Atlanta and cities elsewhere.

6. Charted: Energy costs drive inflation

Data: BLS; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Higher energy costs — especially gasoline — helped drive inflation to its highest year-over-year increase in over 40 years last month, per new Labor Department data, Ben writes.

Yes, but: While gasoline's astonishing surge had an outsized impact, pump prices have been falling since mid-June, Axios' Nathan Bomey reports.

  • With fuel inventories and demand falling, GasBuddy petroleum analyst Patrick De Haan projected that the national average price of gasoline could fall to below $4 by mid-August from $4.63 yesterday.
  • "[Wednesday's] data does not reflect the full impact of nearly 30 days of decreases in gas prices," President Biden said in a statement.

Go deeper.

🙏Thanks for reading and we'll see you back here tomorrow.