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Politics

Will Biden Make an LNG U-Turn?

On Ukraine aid, a solar geoengineering test, and California snowpack

Will Biden Make an LNG U-Turn?
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: India is expecting unusually high temperatures from now through June • A late-season blizzard warning is in place for parts of Michigan • A drought disaster has been declared in Zimbabwe.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Tesla’s disappointing quarter rattles investors

Global EV market leaders Tesla and BYD turned in dismal sales for the first three months of the year, sending investors into a panic and prompting speculation about what it all means. Here are a few noteworthy reactions from analysts and insiders:

  • “I think both performances in Q1 have been affected by the evolving Chinese EV market, including changing incentives and more competition.” –Fred Lambert at Electrek
  • “There may also be a serious demand issue.” –Deutsche Bank analyst Emmanuel Rosner
  • “Tesla pioneered mass-market electric cars, but its lineup is aging.” –Auto industry writers Jack Ewing and Neal E. Boudette at The New York Times
  • “They need a real sales strategy and can’t rely on cutting price alone.” –Gary Black, managing partner of investment firm Future Fund
  • “Any way you put it, it was ugly. Demand is soft. Interest rates are still high. Is Elon’s brand damaging Tesla sales in the U.S.? It’s directionally a negative.” –Gene Munster, managing partner of Deepwater Asset Management

It wasn’t all bad: Other automakers including Rivian, Hyundai, and Toyota reported healthier numbers. Hyundai reported EV sales up more than 60% from the first quarter of 2023. Electric truck maker Rivian modestly surpassed expectations, beating both analysts’ and its own estimates with 13,588 deliveries in the first few months of 2024. Still, Heatmap’s Robinson Meyer says Tesla’s and BYD’s flagging sales may be signaling to investors that a general EV slowdown is coming.

2. Report: Biden open to ending LNG pause to get new Ukraine aid through Congress

The Biden administration is reportedly open to the idea of ending its pause on approvals of new liquified natural gas export terminals if it means the House will green-light an aid package for Ukraine, two White House sources told Reuters. The report follows a Sunday Fox News interview in which House Speaker Mike Johnson hinted that ending the pause might convince his fellow Republicans to support a new aid package. “We want to have natural gas exports that will help unfund Vladimir Putin’s war effort there,” said Johnson. Environmental activists applauded the White House’s January decision to pause new terminal approvals until the Energy Department can study the effect LNG projects have on the climate. A White House spokesman said the Reuters report wasn’t accurate and that the administration wants Republicans to pass the $95 billion bipartisan national security agreement, which includes Ukraine aid. The bill already passed the Senate and would be poised to pass the House, but Johnson has so far refused to bring it to a vote and is now “signaling that a LNG U-turn is table stakes for any Ukraine vote,” explained Politico’s Playbook. The House is back in session next week.

3. Researchers test aerosol sprayer for solar geoengineering projects

Engineers in San Francisco yesterday conducted the first outdoor test of a device that could one day be used to cool the planet through solar geoengineering. The Cloud Aerosol Research Instrument, or CARI, is designed to spray sea salt aerosol particles into the air to brighten clouds and reflect some of the sun’s rays. The tool’s first spray test outside a lab took place Tuesday on the flight deck of the Hornet, a decommissioned aircraft carrier that’s been turned into a museum. Solar geoengineering is a contentious topic, and the research team kept this project pretty quiet. The CARI tool will remain on the Hornet for the public to view, and the researchers hope it will “demystify the concept of climate intervention technologies,” according toThe New York Times.

4. National Weather Service rocked by ill-timed outage

The National Weather Service experienced an outage yesterday morning just as a line of severe storms ripped across the Midwest. The disruption lasted for five hours, during which time about 50 storm alerts, including tornado warnings, were issued across the region. “Meteorologists around the Midwest were without key information that would normally be at their fingertips, and many severe-weather warnings went out to the public late, if at all,” The Washington Post reported. One meteorologist had to rely on a hand-drawn map of tornado warnings from the Weather Service. A spokesman said the agency was working to figure out what went wrong.

5. California celebrates ‘average’ snowpack levels

California’s snowpack is registering just above average right now as the precipitation season ends and the warm and dry season begins, state officials announced yesterday. Snowpack is California’s largest source of stored water, so if it’s low in April – as it has been in recent years following historic droughts – residents know they should brace for water shortages in the summer months to come. On the flipside, if the snowpack is way above average, as it was last year, there’s a chance of flooding. But this year, levels are at about 110%, or just above average. Still, Governor Gavin Newsom wants residents to be mindful of their water use because “this time next year, we might be in a different place.” He said the state is preparing for a near-term future in which climate change will make water even more scarce, and is considering options like desalination and water recycling. Here is a look at how 2015 snowpack (top) compares to this year’s snowpack (bottom):

NASA

NASA

THE KICKER

“There is no guarantee of a just, nourishing, and healthy future for humanity, and hope will not catalyze the change we need.” –The authors of a new paper published in PNAS Nexus, titled “Earth at risk: An urgent call to end the age of destruction and forge a just and sustainable future

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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.

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U.S. manufacturers are racing to get into the game while they still can.

Sodium-ion batteries.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images, Peak Energy, Natron Energy

In the weird, wide world of energy storage, lithium-ion batteries may appear to be an unshakeably dominant technology. Costs have declined about 97% over the past three decades, grid-scale battery storage is forecast to grow faster than wind or solar in the U.S. in the coming decade, and the global lithium-ion supply chain is far outpacing demand, according to BloombergNEF.

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Current conditions: Heavy rains triggered a deadly landslide in Nepal that swept away 60 people • More than a million residents are still without power in and around Houston • It will be about 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Berlin on Sunday for the Euro 2024 final, where England will take on Spain.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration announces $1.7 billion to convert auto plants into EV factories

The Biden administration announced yesterday that the Energy Department will pour $1.7 billion into helping U.S. automakers convert shuttered or struggling manufacturing facilities into EV factories. The money will go to factories in eight states (including swing states Michigan and Pennsylvania) and recipients include Stellantis, Volvo, GM, and Harley-Davidson. Most of the funding comes from the Inflation Reduction Act and it could create nearly 3,000 new jobs and save 15,000 union positions at risk of elimination, the Energy Department said. “Agencies across the federal government are rushing to award the rest of their climate cash before the end of Biden’s first term,” The Washington Post reported.

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Anything decarbonization-related is on the chopping block.

Donald Trump holding the IRA.
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The Biden administration has shoveled money from the Inflation Reduction Act out the door as fast as possible this year, touting the many benefits all that cash has brought to Republican congressional districts. Many — in Washington, at think tanks and non-profits, among developers — have found in this a reason to be calm about the law’s fate. But this is incorrect. The IRA’s future as a climate law is in a far more precarious place than the Beltway conventional wisdom has so far suggested.

Shortly after the changing of the guard in Congress and the White House, policymakers will begin discussing whether to extend the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of 2025. If they opt to do so, they’ll try to find a way to pay for it — and if Republicans win big in the November elections, as recent polling and Democratic fretting suggests could happen, the IRA will be an easy target.

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