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Climate

The Wildfire Smoke is Back

On Canada’s blazes, Tesla’s turnaround, and the Vatican climate summit

The Wildfire Smoke is Back
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: A giant billboard collapsed during a dust storm in Mumbai, killing at least 14 people • Tornado watches are in place across northern parts of Florida • The water is rising again in the flooded Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sol.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Fires continue to burn in western Canada

Wildfires are still raging out of control in Canada, fueled by drought and strong winds. One, the Parker Lake fire, is approaching the town of Fort Nelson, where more than 4,700 people have been evacuated. The fires have sent plumes of smoke into northern states. Parts of Iowa are experiencing hazardous air quality today as a result. The skies have cleared a bit in the Twin Cities after the entire state of Minnesota was under an air quality alert on Monday

Smoke plumes from Canadian wildfires.AirNow

2. FERC announces new transmission rule

There was quite a lot of news coming out of Washington yesterday. Here’s a quick catch-up:

FERC overhauled transmission planning – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission unveiled and approved a rule overhauling regional transmission planning to take into account the ongoing and planned transformation of the electric grid. As Heatmap’s Matthew Zeitlin explained, the new rule will require regional transmission organizations adopt the long view, extending their planning horizon over a 20-year period and calling for updates every five years. FERC is also requiring regional transmission planners to consult a specific set of economic and reliability benefits like reducing congestion on the grid and resilience against extreme weather and lower costs when selecting projects. And transmission planners will have to come up with a default method for allocating costs associated with new projects.

But Chuck Schumer downplayed the possibility of permitting reform – The Senate majority leader said a bipartisan package to overhaul permitting reform and speed up energy projects would be “virtually impossible” because Republicans have been blocking the effort.

Meanwhile, GOP attorneys challenged emissions rules – A group of Republican attorneys general launched a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the EPA’s new emissions limits for trucks, to be phased in over the next decade or so. Another lawsuit targets California for its ban on combustion trucks set to take effect in 2036.

Coming up today: President Biden is set to announce new tariffs on Chinese EVs and other imports today at 12:15 pm ET.

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  • 3. Tesla reportedly re-hiring some Supercharger workers

    When Tesla abruptly laid off its entire Supercharger team a few weeks ago, a rather stunned Robinson Meyer said on Heatmap’s Shift Key podcast that the “best case scenario” for what had happened was that Elon Musk was “cutting very deeply into teams that he knows in three to six months that he’s going to hire back.” This may be exactly what’s happened, though on a much shorter timeline. Bloombergreported yesterday that Tesla has started hiring back some of the Supercharger team, including Max de Zegher, the director of charging for North America. It wasn’t clear how many workers were being re-hired, but Meyer noted that Musk’s philosophy is that “if you don’t need to go back and hire back or build back 10% of what you cut then you didn’t cut deep enough.”

    4. VW unveils trims for electric ID Buzz

    Volkswagen has released more details about its much-anticipated electric Microbus – aka the ID Buzz. In the U.S. it’ll come in three trims: Pro S, Pro S Plus, and 1st Edition. All of them will have a 91-kWh battery, 20-inch wheels, a 12.9-inch infotainment system, 30-color ambient lighting, and Park Assist Plus. “The colors are FUN,” wrote Michelle Lewis at Electrek. They range from Energetic Orange and Pomelo Yellow to Mahi Green and Cabana Blue, plus a few more. The vehicles will go on sale in the U.S. later this year. We don’t yet know the range or pricing.

    VW

    5. Vatican to host climate summit this week

    The Vatican is hosting a three-day international climate summit, starting tomorrow and ending on Friday. The event will focus on building climate resilience worldwide through mitigation and adaptation. “We no longer have the luxury of relying just on mitigation of emissions,” the event organizers wrote. “We need to embark on building climate resilience so that people can bend the emissions curve, survive the climate crisis, and bounce forward to a safer, healthier, more equitable, and sustainable world.”

    The event will culminate in a protocol “fashioned along the lines of the Montreal Protocol” that will “provide the guidelines for making everyone climate resilient.” The protocol will then be submitted to the UNFCCC. In written remarks ahead of the summit, Pope Francis said “the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.”

    THE KICKER

    EVs accounted for 4.3% of used car sales in the first quarter of 2024, according to used car sales platform Carvana. That is up from 1.8% of used car sales in the first quarter of 2023.

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Climate

    AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

    On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

    Wednesday sunrise.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

    The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

    Keep reading...Show less
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    Technology

    Carbon Removal’s Stamp of Approval

    The Department of Energy is advancing 24 companies in its purchase prize contest. What these companies are getting is more important than $50,000.

    Heirloom DAC.
    Heatmap Illustration/Heirloom Carbon

    The Department of Energy is advancing its first-of-a-kind program to stimulate demand for carbon removal by becoming a major buyer. On Tuesday, the agency awarded $50,000 to each of 24 semifinalist companies competing to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere on behalf of the U.S. government. It will eventually spend $30 million to buy carbon removal credits from up to 10 winners.

    The nascent carbon removal industry is desperate for customers. At a conference held in New York City last week called Carbon Unbound, startup CEOs brainstormed how to convince more companies to buy carbon removal as part of their sustainability strategies. On the sidelines, attendees lamented to me that there were hardly even any potential buyers at the conference — what a missed opportunity.

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    Economy

    Tom Steyer Is Baffled By Warren Buffett’s Oil Bets

    “In the case of fossil fuels, he doesn’t seem to recognize how quickly our ability to develop and deploy clean energy is growing — and how cheap that energy is becoming.”

    Tom Steyer and Warren Buffett.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    If you’re looking for a relatively optimistic read on the fight against climate change, Tom Steyer’s new book is out today. Called Cheaper, Better Faster: How We’ll Win the Climate War, it dives into the billionaire’s perspective on the state of the climate crisis and the clean energy solutions helping the world decarbonize. Steyer’s perspective is informed by the many hats he wears — investor, philanthropist, long shot 2020 presidential candidate, Yale man, and co-founder of the investment firm Galvanize Climate Solutions.

    I chatted with Steyer a few weeks ago about his book, his guiding investment principles, and how and why people become environmentalists. Here are three things I found noteworthy:

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