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 TrumpTrump goes after Cassidy after saying he wouldn't support him for president in 2024 Jan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Agencies sound alarm over ransomware targeting agriculture groups 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 & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Trump-era EPA board member sues over firing EPA bans use of pesticide linked to developmental problems in children 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) MenendezSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Democrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates Advocates frustrated by shrinking legal migration under Biden 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 CardinDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' GOP disappointment with McConnell deal could delay vote MORE (Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Lawmakers call for more resources to support early cancer detection MORE (N.H.), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Who is afraid of the EU's carbon border adjustment plan? MORE (Del.), Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Defense: Milley reportedly warned Trump against Iran strikes | Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer killed in Afghanistan | 70 percent of active-duty military at least partially vaccinated Biden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Senate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin MORE (N.M.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyExpats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines Growing number of Democrats endorse abolishing debt limit altogether Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (Conn.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate Democrats ditch Hyde amendment for first time in decades Fill the Eastern District of Virginia  Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals MORE (Va.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Biden likely to tap Robert Califf to return as FDA head Biden faces pressure to pass infrastructure bills before climate summit MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocratic appropriations bills would increase environmental funding by B Paris Hilton to visit Capitol Hill to advocate for bill on children's treatment centers Senate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair MORE (Ore.), Cory BookerCory BookerSenate GOP signals they'll help bail out Biden's Fed chair Defense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Senators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products MORE (N.J.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzDefense & National Security — Military starts giving guidance on COVID-19 vaccine refusals Blinken pressed to fill empty post overseeing 'Havana syndrome' Milestone bill would bar imports linked to forest destruction 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 HagelInterpreter who helped rescue Biden in 2008 escapes Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security 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 & Environment — Biden makes return to pre-Trump national monument boundaries official Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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