Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election

Overnight Energy: EPA moves to raise ethanol levels in gasoline | Dems look to counter White House climate council | Zinke cleared of allegations tied to special election
© Greg Nash

EPA PUSHES PLAN TO INCREASE ETHANOL IN GAS: Trump on Tuesday advanced a plan that would expand the use of ethanol in gasoline across the U.S., a move pushed by corn farmers but expected to draw ire from the oil and gas industry.

The latest step pushes forward a proposal that would allow the year-round sale of gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol, known as E15. Previously, E15 was restricted under air pollution requirements between June 1 and Sept. 15, as science shows burning ethanol in warmer temperature leads to heightened ground-level ozone pollution and smog. The new plan will effectively lift those sales barriers.

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Also under the plan, Trump will make it harder for refiners to trade credits for biofuel use known as renewable identification numbers (RINs).

Currently, refiners and importers of natural gas must blend their fuels with ethanol before sale or purchase RINs sold on the market.

The administration's RIN reform would include requiring public disclosure of RINs, limit the length of time that nonrefineries or importers can hold a RIN and improve compliance.

How we got here: The White House last October directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate a rulemaking to expand waivers for E15 and change way RINs were traded on the market. Tuesday's proposed rule very closely resembles the plan put forth by Trump.

What's next: The EPA on Tuesday said it will be looking for public comment on the rule and will hold a public hearing March 29.

"Consistent with President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE's direction, EPA is working to propose and finalize these changes by the summer driving season," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. "We will be holding a public hearing at the end of this month to gather important feedback."

Trump's role: Trump has long hinted at his plans to expand the ethanol market, a promise he first made during his presidential campaign.

Last July, he said he was "very close" to allowing higher ethanol content in gasoline.

The ethanol industry has long pushed for a waiver from the EPA that would allow fuel stations to sell E15. Currently, most gasoline sold in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol, with about 1 percent of filling stations selling E15.

"I stuck with ethanol, most of the other candidates weren't there," Trump said in July.

Former EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies MORE had planned to allow E15 sales year-round as part of a deal between oil and corn interests to change how the administration enforces the federal mandate to blend ethanol into gasoline.

More on the EPA's proposed rule here.

 

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill's roundup of the latest energy and environment news.Please send tips and comments to Miranda Green, mgreen@thehill.com. Follow me on Twitter: @mirandacgreen, @thehill.

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DEMS PUSH BILL TO COUNTER WHITE HOUSE CLIMATE COUNCIL: A group of Democratic lawmakers is offering legislation to counter the highly controversial climate security council being formed by the White House.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezGraham blocks resolution recognizing Armenian genocide after Erdoğan meeting Trump encounters GOP resistance to investigating Hunter Biden Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward MORE (D-N.J.) and 10 other Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill to create a new group within the State Department that would be responsible for developing strategies to integrate climate science and data into national security operations.

The new council, to be dubbed the climate security envoy, would be responsible for facilitating interagency communication between all federal science and security agencies, according to the bill.

The proposed envoy functions similarly to the proposed White House council in advising the president and the administration on climate change's potential effects on national security.

The council the White House plans to create, which was first reported in February, has faced questions over its reported climate skepticism.

Sponsors of the bill Tuesday said the envoy within the State Department would be responsible for making sure science-backed data was being used to determine national security policies.

"Whether it's disruptions to the food supply or forced migration from sea level rise or destruction wreaked by more powerful storms, climate change will likely exacerbate conflict and humanitarian crises around the world," Menendez said in a statement. "National Security planning and analysis is only as good as the intelligence it is based on, and given the dangerously cavalier attitude this administration has towards the very real dangers of climate change, Congress must act to ensure politics doesn't put our national security at risk."

Who's on board: The new legislation, called The Climate Security Act of 2019, is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE (Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOn The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Overnight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring MORE (N.H.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenators introduce bipartisan bill restricting police use of facial recognition tech Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Bill Gates visits Capitol to discuss climate change with new Senate caucus MORE (Del.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallBureau of Land Management staff face relocation or resignation as agency moves west Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Hillicon Valley: Twitter to refuse all political ads | Trump camp blasts 'very dumb' decision | Ocasio-Cortez hails move | Zuckerberg doubles down on Facebook's ad policies | GOP senator blocks sweeping election reform bill MORE (N.M.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyOvernight Defense: Trump, Erdogan confirm White House meeting | Public impeachment hearings set for next week | Top defense appropriator retiring Fairness, tradition, and the Constitution demand the 'whistleblower' step forward Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer MORE (Conn.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (Va.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOvernight Defense: Families sue over safety hazards at Army base | Lawmakers, NBA's Enes Kanter speak out ahead of Erdoğan visit | Washington braces for public impeachment hearings NBA's Enes Kanter speaks out against Erdoğan ahead of White House visit Democrats unifying against Joe Kennedy Senate bid MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Senate committee advances budget reform plan MORE (Ore.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Krystal Ball: Patrick's 2020 bid is particularly 'troublesome' for Warren 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (N.J.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzCongress should lift the ban on medical cannabis access for military veterans Booker introduces bill banning facial recognition tech in public housing Senate Democrat: Colleague was working on fantasy football trade instead of listening to Schumer MORE (Hawaii).

The controversy: While the climate council Trump is proposing has to officially be formed through an executive order, the administration is moving swiftly with plans to create the advisory board. It is expected to be led by National Security Council Senior Director William Happer, a physicist and well-known climate skeptic who has in the past argued that carbon emissions benefit the atmosphere.

The team being organized under Happer is expected to heavily criticize the science behind climate change and question global warming's impact on U.S. national security.

A warning from defense experts: Last week, more than 50 former senior military and national security officials, including former Secretary of Defense Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAlmost 100 former officials, members of Congress urge Senate action on election security GOP Senate candidate said Republicans have 'dual loyalties' to Israel White House aide moves to lobbying firm MORE, wrote a letter to Trump underscoring the importance of considering climate science in national security planning.

"Imposing a political test on reports issued by the science agencies, and forcing a blind spot onto the national security assessments that depend on them, will erode our national security," they wrote.

Lawmakers on Tuesday said their bill "provides the statutory muscle necessary to address this need."

More on the climate council controversy here.

 

And in new about former Cabinet members...

 

ZINKE CLEARED OF VIOLATING FEDERAL RULES IN SPECIAL ELECTION: The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) has cleared former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule MORE of accusations that he arranged a grant announcement to interfere in a Pennsylvania special election, CNN reported Tuesday.

The OSC, which is separate from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE's office, "found no evidence that you violated the Hatch Act during this event," according to a letter obtained by CNN.

Zinke announced mine cleanup grants, including $55 million in Pennsylvania, near the district where then-candidates Rick Saccone (R) and Conor Lamb (D) were running for a congressional seat, according to the letter, which was dated Monday. Saccone was present at the announcement, but "did not have a speaking or other preferred role" at the event, the letter said.

"OSC's investigation found that the evidence established that [Department of the Interior] DOI had official, nonpolitical, reasons for making the grant announcement," the letter said.

An OSC spokesperson confirmed in a statement to The Hill that the office "sent a letter regarding the Pennsylvania trip," but did not offer any specifics on its contents, saying that details of its investigations are confidential. The spokesperson later clarified that it did not dispute CNN's characterization of the letter.

Zinke told The Hill that he followed the law.

"I followed all rules, regulations, and most importantly, the law," he said in a statement.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP WEDNESDAY:

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold an oversight hearing Wednesday looking into the Trump administration's "improper alteration" of two Utah national monuments, Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears.

The Senate's Environment and Public Works committee will consider the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act of 2019 during a hearing Wednesday.

 

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

Shell urges Trump White House to tighten methane leak rules, Reuters reports.

BLM offers cash to wild horses adopters, the Billings Gazette reports.

Landmark energy bill heads to New Mexico governor's desk, the Associated Press reports.

 

lN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Tuesday's stories...

-Greenpeace distances itself from criticism of Ocasio-Cortez

-EPA pushes plan to increase ethanol mix in gasoline

-Zinke cleared of violating federal rules tied to Pennsylvania special election

-Democrats offer legislation to counter White House climate science council

-EPA head rules out future negotiations with California over car emissions

-Trump approvingly tweets quote expressing skepticism about climate change

-New viral challenge for 'bored teens' has people cleaning up trash across the world

-Trump raises hopes for permanent daylight saving time

-Thousands of Scottish students to be allowed to miss school to join climate protests