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 TrumpPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Ben Carson: Trump is not a racist and his comments were not racist 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 gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Democrats, scientists slam Trump administration actions on scientific boards Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits 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) MenendezPompeo changes staff for Russia meeting after concerns raised about top negotiator's ties: report Dem senators demand GOP judicial group discloses donors Senate passes .5B border bill, setting up fight with House 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 CardinCan new US Strategy on Women, Peace & Security give women a real seat at the table? Ask Afghan women Maryland lawmakers slam 'despicable' Trump remark about journalists on newsroom shooting anniversary Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt MORE (Md.), Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse House Dems, Senate GOP build money edge to protect majorities Crucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research MORE (N.H.), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsTrump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip GOP chairman introduces bill to force 'comprehensive review' of US-Saudi relationship MORE (Del.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' | Republicans form conservation caucus | Pressure mounts against EPA's new FOIA rule Trump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' MORE (N.M.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic Sen. Chris Murphy announces book on gun violence Lawmakers join Nats Park fundraiser for DC kids charity Democrats look to demonize GOP leader MORE (Conn.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineTrump's pick to lead Pentagon glides through confirmation hearing Acosta defends Epstein deal, bucking calls for resignation Republican lawmakers on why they haven't read Mueller report: 'Tedious' and 'what's the point?' MORE (Va.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyHillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Senators press FTC over 'woefully inadequate' Facebook settlement Head of miners union calls Green New Deal's main goal 'almost impossible' MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Democrat releasing book on Trump admin's treatment of migrants at border Sunday shows - Amash, immigration dominate Merkley on delaying endorsement: 'We have a different set of cards this time' MORE (Ore.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerThe Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Schumer throws support behind bill to study reparations MORE (N.J.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzOn The Money: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency | Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing | Democrats ask Labor Department to investigate Amazon warehouses Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing Bottom Line 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 HagelTrump's pick for Pentagon chief wins allies on Capitol Hill Trump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry Overnight Defense: Senators plan 22 resolutions to block Saudi arms sale | Trump defends transgender military plan | Trump, lawmakers prep to mark D-Day anniversary 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: Trump officials gut DC staff for public lands agency to move West | Democrats slam EPA over scientific boards | Deepwater Horizon most litigated environmental issue of decade Trump officials gut DC staff as public lands agency preps to move out West Bureau of Land Management to move headquarters from DC to Colorado 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 MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump 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