What's next for Biden's climate plan, the SEC's new ESG task force, and the end of gas stations

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These solar stocks have had a great start to the year (as of Wednesday’s close, in this table), but remain volatile and were hit Thursday in a broad market selloff after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said it would be a while before the Fed tightens interest rates.

The small town of Petaluma, Calif., once known as the egg basket of the world, notched a new claim to fame this week when it became the first city in the country to ban the construction of new gas stations. Located only 15 minutes from Callaway Climate Insights world headquarters, Petaluma already has 16 stations for its 60,000 residents and wants to stem the tide of large retailers like Safeway and Costco (COST) putting gas pumps in their parking lots to draw customers.

Petaluma will find itself at the forefront of a massive change in this country’s landscape as electric charging stations gradually, then suddenly, replace the 168,000 gas stations that have been a part of our culture for decades. “Beneath that giant Exxon sign that brings this fair city light,” Bruce Springsteen wrote.

The move coincided with the announcement of a plan by six electric companies to form the Electric Highway Coalition, to build hundreds of EV charging stations throughout the Southeast and Midwest.

We’ve all seen the current charging stations, off to the side of the gas pumps or in front of the retail stores looking a bit neglected. But what will those charging centers of the future look like? Will they become full-service operations that sell groceries and fast food and lottery tickets; becoming part of movie and rock ‘n’ roll lore as symbols of the open road? Or will they be something entirely different?

The computer age in cars and trucks is here. There’s no reason to think that new design changes won’t accompany it. I’m interested in what you think. Please email with your thoughts — or photos — and I’ll select a few cool ones and publish them.

More insights below. . . .

Don’t forget to contact me directly if you have suggestions or ideas at dcallaway@callawayclimateinsights.com.

Exporting pollution: Why climate regulators are losing the battle against Big Smoke

. . . . Regulatory arbitrage by big polluters seeking to avoid higher emissions standards is hurting greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale, according to a new study, writes Mark Hulbert. The failure of international efforts to develop consistent emissions rules is allowing big fossil fuel companies to simply shift harmful manufacturing practices from country to country, resulting in a Whac-a-Mole effect. . . .

Read the full story

EU notebook: A combustive debate over the future of Europe’s cars — electric or nothing

. . . . Lost in Europe’s debate about the future of cars on the continent is any sort of idea of transition, writes Vish Gain from Dublin. Some of the biggest automakers in Europe, such as Volkswagen, Renault and Stellantis, are pushing back on a new set of emissions standards that effectively would disqualify traditional combustion engines.

While the proposals are only in the draft stage and subject to changes until the end of 2021, Europe’s cars stand at a crossroads of two very different futures. Depending on who wins the tug-of-war of negotiations, European cars will find their way to an electric-only future by either gradual deceleration or a screeching halt. . . .

Read the full EU notebook

ZEUS: Climate change pushback rears in central bank circles, threatens markets

. . . . Central bankers are starting to push back on the idea of underwriting climate change recoveries on concern the issue is too far afield from their remit of maintaining monetary stability, and might threaten their independence, writes David Callaway. Already boxed in by more than a decade of low rates and quantitative easing, the threat of inflation by calls for trillions of government spending on green programs is proving to a sticking point in both Europe and the U.S.

The key issue in this debate is timing though. Quantitative easing is essentially a big, expensive stalling tactic, as we await some Godot-like future when all our economies will be able to stand on their feet again with rising interest rates helping control inflation. Time is what global warming won’t allow. . . .

Read the full story

Thursday’s insights: What’s next for Biden’s climate plan, plus the SEC’s new climate task force

. . . . Even before the Democrats’ draft of the Clean Future Act was dropped this week, critics had labeled it the new Green New Deal, implying a hodgepodge of long-sought liberal initiatives on the environment coming together under some grand, green recovery effort under President Joe Biden. But this plan has several new goals that look likely to pass, albeit in a spun off manner. Read more, plus what Third Way Climate Director Ryan Fitzpatrick sees as the most important components, here. . . .

. . . . The SEC awakened from its long, climate dormancy with a bang this week as it named ESG investing a priority and on Thursday said it would establish a task force to monitor misconduct such as greenwashing. A Biden swipe at Wall Street, or a much needed look at a huge credibility problem? Read more here. . . .

. . . . A Kentucky coal miner’s bankruptcy case is likely to end soon with it walking away from more than 200 coal permits, and 8,000 acres of strip-mined mountains without enough funds left to clean up an area that “looks like a bomb went off.” The case highlights the danger of stranded coal assets and raises a key issue in transition- funding for government. Read more here. . . .

. . . . Mexico, once one of the world’s leaders in the drive to renewables, continued its backslide to fossil fuels when the nation’s legislature fell into line behind populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s drive to use oil and gas for power generation. The issue is already riling foreign investors and is likely to drive a wedge into the country’s plans to improve its ties with the U.S. after four years of Trump. Read more here. . . .

. . . . Biden’s ‘Buy American’ plan for infrastructure revival may be good for procurement spending, but it’s another thorn in the new administration’s relations with Canada, which supplies a lot of the steel, aluminum and concrete used in U.S. construction projects. Following the Keystone decision, Canada is hoping for better treatment than Mexico can expect. Read more here. . . .

Read all of today's insights

News briefs: FedEx vows to deliver net-zero emissions by 2040

Editor’s picks:

  • FedEx to invest $2 billion in drive for net-zero

  • Want a clue on green investing’s future? Look east

  • China’s coal addiction continues despite green vows

  • Warming could rob booze of its flavors

Read all of today's news briefs

Data driven: Energy for jobs

. . . . It’s a fantastic time to learn how to service wind turbines or install solar panels, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2019 and 2029, the U.S. BLS projects employment of wind turbine service technicians to grow by 61% while the employment of solar photovoltaic installers to increase by 51%. With pandemic-induced unemployment remaining a massive threat in communities nationwide, now is a fantastic time to invest aid money into not just renewable energy projects, but local institutions that can train the workforce to contribute to this industry. — George Barker

Latest findings: New research, studies and projects

In recognition of UN World Wildlife Day, celebrating and raising awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants: this common seal, off Lismore, Argyll. Photo: Sharp Photography/Wikimedia.

Vital ocean current at its weakest in 1,000 years

The seal in the above image, hanging out off the coast of Scotland, looks worried. He should be. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, — one of Earth’s major ocean circulation systems — redistributes heat on our planet and has a major impact on climate. See this spectacular multimedia report from The New York Times. In new research published in Nature Geoscience, the authors compare a variety of published proxy records to reconstruct the evolution of the AMOC since about AD 400. A fairly consistent picture of the AMOC emerges: after a long and relatively stable period, there was an initial weakening starting in the 19th century, followed by a second, more rapid, decline in the mid-20th century, leading to the weakest state of the AMOC occurring in recent decades. The data consistently show that the modern AMOC slowdown is unprecedented in over a thousand years, and caused in part by something called a cold blob in Northern waters tied to melting ice. Improved understanding of this slowdown is urgently needed. The next step is to resolve which components and pathways of the AMOC have altered, how, and why — no small feat, and requiring a community effort that combines observational, modeling and palaeo-climatological approaches.

More of the latest research:

Words to live by:

“I hold a vision of this blue green planet, safe and in balance. At the end of the Fossil Fuel Era, we are emerging to a new reality. We are ready to make the next leap — as momentous as abolishing slavery or giving women the vote.” — Canadian politician Elizabeth May.