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RYAN ZINKE, ANDREW WHEELER AND THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: The talk around Washington is that sometime between the midterms and Christmas we may see Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke leave the Cabinet, according to a source with a close ear on the administration.

In that same time period, we may also see Environmental Protection Agency acting administrator Andrew Wheeler get his wings, so to speak, with President Trump officially nominating him as EPA chief.

One factor in setting expectations about Zinke’s tenure is that he is now facing a Justice Department probe.

Interior’s inspector general reportedly asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation on Tuesday into the possibility that Zinke used his position as secretary for personal gain and enrichment, sources told both CNN and the Washington Post. The DOJ is not commenting on the reports.  

Zinke already was facing an in-house probe: The inspector general has been investigating Zinke since July over his ties to a Montana-based foundation that he once ran before becoming a member of the Cabinet, and its involvement in a real estate deal with David Lesar, the head of oil services giant Halliburton, and several others.

Zinke hasn’t yet heard from the DOJ: Zinke told CNN on Tuesday that he has had no contact with the Justice Department, but is ready to cooperate and follow the law if and when they do approach him.

His lawyer had something similar to say, while calling news of the referral “unsubstantiated.”

Stephen Ryan, a partner at McDermott Will and Emery, is serving as acting counsel to Zinke.

“The Secretary has not been contacted or notified of any DOJ investigation or Inspector General referral,” Ryan said in a statement.

Team Zinke isn’t pleased with the leaks: It is “disappointing that unsubstantiated” reports have impugned Zinke, Ryan added, explaining that the disclosures violate DOJ and IG policy directives. “The Secretary has done nothing wrong."  

Wheeler, on the other hand, has managed to avoid high-profile investigations, or any allegations involving his use of his position for personal enrichment or gain. By comparison, his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was weighed down with scandal accusations on almost a daily basis.  

President Trump hinted last week that he could be nominating Wheeler to be administrator some time soon.

“He’s acting, but he’s doing well, right? So maybe he won’t be so acting so long,” Trump said last week at a State Leadership Day Conference with Wheeler.

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NEW FERC CHAIR NEIL CHATTERJEE PROMISES NOT TO COVER FOR TRUMP ON NUCLEAR AND COAL: New Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee vowed Wednesday to carry on the legacy of his predecessor to protect the independent body from political influence as it considers how to handle the growing number of retirements of coal and nuclear plants.

“I intend to do everything in my power…that the agency’s independence from political influence will continue,” Chatterjee, a sitting GOP commissioner, told reporters at a briefing one week after the White House designated him chairman, replacing Kevin McIntyre, a fellow Republican who is suffering from health issues.

Chatterjee, a former staffer for Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., previously served as FERC chairman on an interim basis before McIntyre was confirmed by the Senate last November.

He sought to rebut critics who fear, because of his political background representing a coal-friendly state, that he may be more sympathetic to the Trump administration’s interest in saving uneconomic coal and nuclear plants by subsidizing their continued existence.

“When I first came to the commission last fall, coming from a partisan legislative role were I worked on behalf of my boss to fight against retirement of coal, I initially was sympathetic to Secretary Perry’s proposal,” Chatterjee said. “As I evolved into the role, I recognized that is not part of our record, that does not factor in the statute that governs us.”

FERC in January voted unanimously to reject a proposal from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to provide special payments to struggling coal and nuclear plants in the name of resilience and reliability, saying the grid faces no immediate risk without them.

McIntyre and Chatterjee both opposed the Perry plan.

FERC, in rejecting Perry’s plan, directed regional transmission operators to submit information on resilience challenges in their markets. The commission is reviewing those responses and could act on its own. Trump has repeatedly pressed for action to save coal and nuclear plants, but the White House has reportedly stalled over an effort to use emergency executive authority.

Any potential action would likely come through FERC, which is independent.

Chatterjee said he would follow the “rule of law” on any decision on the matter and take action, or no action -- if the evidence does not support it -- based on facts.

“This won't be a politically influenced decision,” he said.

GOP CALLS FOR SUSPENDING NUCLEAR REACTOR DEAL WITH SAUDI ARABIA: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., led a group of Republicans on Wednesday in urging President Trump to suspend all negotiations to build a nuclear power plant in Saudi Arabia as a response to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Rubio and four other senators wrote in a letter to Trump that Khashoggi’s murder and Saudi actions in Yemen and Lebanon implicate the “transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia.”

Previous negotiations: Building an American-made reactor in Saudi Arabia is a top goal for Energy Secretary Rick Perry and others in Trump’s Cabinet.

Nevertheless, some in Congress have warned that such a deal could generate proliferation risks.

Perry’s argument is that it is better for the U.S. to lead on civil nuclear development in Saudi Arabia than allowing a rival, such as Russia, to do so.

Chinese threat: Meanwhile, experts at a two-day conference on U.S-Saudi relations in Washington said the letter means the Chinese will likely get the deal.

Paul Sullivan, energy fellow with the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, the group hosting the summit, said the U.S. deal has been barely treading above water in recent months and that Rubio’s letter is a sign that either China or South Korea will likely get the reactor deal.

STATE DEPARTMENT TO INVEST $2.8B IN MIDEAST ENERGY ASSISTANCE: The State Department will level $2.8 billion in foreign assistance next year to help Mideast countries better cope with energy infrastructure and market access issues, said Kent Logsdon, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources, speaking at a conference on Wednesday.

“The assistance is an investment in the well-being of the Middle Eastern and American people,” he said during an energy panel at the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations’ policymakers summit. He explained that his bureau has a program aimed at liberalizing infrastructure and energy market development.

Logsdon explained that the focus of his bureau is principally focused on fossil fuels through improvements in mining, oil and natural gas drilling, but is also offering technical assistance on renewable energy and conservation programs.

Energy security is the goal: He said the State and Energy Departments will coordinate in providing assistance to Mideast producers to improve overall energy security. The effort mirrors the energy diversification push the U.S. is working on with European countries to move away from dependence on Russia.

DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEYS GENERAL READY FOR ROUND TWO OF CLIMATE RULE FIGHT: Democratic attorneys general are teaming up to try to block the Trump administration’s climate rule rollback agenda, with the latest bout to be fought Wednesday over the repeal of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

Halloween is the deadline for submitting comments on the EPA’s proposal to repeal the Obama climate plan for coal plants, and replace it with President Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy rule, or ACE.

Whereas the Obama plan called for reducing states’ carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030, ACE focuses on making it easier for coal plants to make efficiency upgrades. But critics say the upgrades will do little to lower carbon dioxide emissions that are to blame for global warming.

It’s so far removed from the Obama rule’s climate goals that New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said she is ready to sue, along with nearly two dozen Democratic state attorneys general, cities, and counties. The coalition on Wednesday will lay out their legal and policy arguments in comments submitted to EPA.

Round one led by California: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra explained that California is leading the attack against Trump's clean car rollback, while New York leads the legal defense on the power plant rules.

Becerra and 20 other state attorneys general filed comments on Friday with the EPA providing a detailed legal argument against the federal government’s decision not to move forward with strict fuel economy requirements for cars.

Greens join the fight: But the state attorneys general won’t be alone in voicing their opposition to the Trump ACE rule on Wednesday. A large coalition of environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other prominent environmental advocacy groups are expected to file comments by midnight, according to sources with knowledge of the plans.

Utility group defends Trump’s rule: The Electric Reliability Coordinating Council intends to defend the legal basis of the Trump regulations, arguing that it is both “legally defensible and effective,” according to an outline of comments obtained by John.

The group will argue that ACE returns to a strict interpretation of the Clean Air Act that returns to “the clear intent of Congress."

GREENS BEGIN HANDING DOWN ‘CLIMATE FRAUD’ AWARDS TO INDUSTRY: The environmental group Friends of the Earth is handing out awards for industry CEOs it thinks are doing the climate the most harm.

The group gave Larry Fink, CEO of the capital investment firm BlackRock, the “climate fraud” award, because the firm hold “more stock in companies contributing to climate change than any other company in the world.”

“BlackRock is the world’s largest investor in climate destruction,” said Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth’s senior policy analyst. “As the warnings from climate scientists become ever more dire, Fink and his investments are on the wrong side of history.”

The group says Fink is committing fraud by calling for “sustainable investment” while simultaneously putting the bulk of his company’s funds into fossil fuels, which has led to deforestation.

FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES ARE RISING GLOBALLY, IEA SAYS: Subsidies for consumers around the world to buy fossil fuel products rose 12 percent last year, after falling for years, the International Energy Agency said in a report Tuesday.

The higher subsidies, valued at more than $300 billion globally, are mostly attributable to higher oil prices. In 2016, for the first time, the value of subsidies for electricity generation were higher than for oil use, but that changed last year.

Developing countries often use fossil fuel consumption subsidies to increase energy access, and make it more affordable.

“The rise in international fuel prices in 2018 could set back efforts to phase out fossil fuel subsidies,” the IEA said in its report.

Why the IEA worries about subsidies: The IEA favors phasing out fossil fuel subsidies because boosting higher emitting resources hampers the development of renewable energy in developing countries.

For example, the Middle East has some of the best potential for solar power generation in the world, but  the share of solar generation in the power mix remains low. Renewables represent only 6 percent of the region’s generating capacity and 2 percent of electricity production.

RUNDOWN

Bloomberg A Virginia farmer fights to harvest his uranium

Reuters Ocean shock: the climate crisis beneath the waves

Washington Post Two generations of humans have killed off more than half the world’s wildlife populations, report finds

New York Times Job No. 1 for G.E.’s new chief: fix its ailing power business


Calendar

WEDNESDAY | October 31

11:59 p.m., Deadline for comments on EPA’s proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan with revised emissions guidelines called the Affordable Clean Energy rule.

THURSDAY | November 1

3:30 p.m., 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The United States Energy Association holds a technology briefing on "What Does 'Resilience' of the Electric Power Sector Mean Today?"

TUESDAY | November 6

Midterm elections.

THURSDAY | November 15

10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a full committee hearing on the nominations of Rita Baranwal to be an assistant Energy secretary for nuclear energy; Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; and Raymond David Vela to be director of the National Park Service.