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RIYADH TO THE RESCUE AS BAGHDAD FACES BLACKOUTS FROM SANCTIONS: Saudi Arabia is scrambling at the behest of Washington to help wean Iraq off of Iranian energy imports to supply its grid.

U.S. sanctions kick in next week, and Baghdad faces the threat of blackouts if it complies.

A massive delegation from Baghdad descended on the Saudi capital of Riyadh last week to jump-start a plan to boost energy cooperation ahead of the U.S. enforcing a strict ban on energy imports from Iran, with no more waivers being granted.

Trump will be under tremendous pressure to keep issuing waivers: Baghdad has already received 180 days of waiver extensions, and those extensions will likely keep coming unless Trump wants Iraqi instability on his hands, says Richard Nephew, the State Department’s former sanctions chief, who now serves as senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

“I think we are in a semi-permanent waiver situation” for Iraq, Nephew tells John. “I don’t see any near-them prospects for ending them” when the Iraqis have said it will take 3 years to wean themselves off Iranian natural gas.

Nearly all of Iraq’s electricity supplies are dependent on the natural gas it imports via pipelines from Iran.

Mideast experts in Washington say the Trump administration is leaning heavily on Saudi Arabia to diversify Iraq’s energy supplies. But switching suppliers isn’t going to happen overnight, says Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Center Washington, the U.S. branch of the Qatar-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.

The relationship between Riyadh and Baghdad “is there, but it has not achieved its intended effect, yet,” Jahshan tells John.

Iraq is in a very different position than that of other countries that import oil from Iran, he says.

“They feel threatened specifically due to their vulnerability,” Jahshan says.

Big on oil, but lagging behind on natural gas: Iraq is the number-two OPEC producer behind Saudi Arabia, with 89% of its total government revenues coming from oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Iraq has significant natural gas reserves to provide for its needs but lags behind on infrastructure to make the country energy independent, according to the EIA.

Iraq began importing natural gas from Iran in a big way soon after Trump was sworn into office in 2017, despite his threats of reinstating sanctions. Its consumption of natural gas from Iran doubled from 2017 to 2018. The fuel is used to power a number of plants that surround the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad.

Perry’s mission to Baghdad: Trump sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Baghdad late last year to press the Iraqis on looking for other options to supply its country.

“The time has come for Iraq to break its dependence on others and move forward toward true energy independence,” Perry said in December as a 45-day waiver for the country was about to expire. “I’m here to tell you that America and its business community stand ready to assist you in that endeavor.”

Soon after Perry’s visit, the Trump administration granted Iraq a 90-day extension of the waiver. And it was granted another 90-day extension of the sanctions waiver in March to continue importing Iranian natural gas.

The current waivers end in June at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

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IRAN LASHES OUT AT TRUMP’S OIL SANCTIONS: As the Trump administration increases economic pressure on Iran by ending the waivers that allowed some U.S. allies to continue buying Iranian oil, the Iranian parliament is lashing out, labeling the U.S. military "terrorist."

The Tuesday vote came one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the United States would stop granting exemptions to countries that import Iranian oil, subjecting them to sanctions if they keep buying oil after their waivers expire May 2. China, India, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea all still purchase Iranian oil.

CHINA SIGNALS PLAN TO FLOUT SANCTIONS: China signaled an intention to defy U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry on Tuesday, denouncing the loss of a waiver renewal as an unacceptable threat against “normal energy cooperation” with Tehran.

“The normal energy cooperation under the international law between Iran and other members of the international community, China included, is legitimate and lawful; thus it must be respected and protected,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

China is Iran’s largest oil customer, importing nearly 500,000 barrels per day.

US VOWS TO KEEP VITAL STRAIT OPEN: The U.S. military vowed Tuesday to keep open the vital Strait of Hormuz, after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps threatened to close it in retaliation for Trump’s sanctions.

“The Strait of Hormuz is an international waterway. Threats to close the strait impact the international community and undermine the free flow of commerce,” said Lt. Col. Earl Brown, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, in response to the Washington Examiners Jamie McIntyre.

“The U.S., along with our allies and partners, is committed to freedom of navigation and remain well positioned and postured to preserve the free flow of commerce and we are prepared to respond to any acts of aggression."

IEA SAYS OIL MARKETS ARE ‘ADEQUATELY SUPPLIED:’ The International Energy Agency said Tuesday global oil markets are “adequately supplied” and spare production capacity remains at “comfortable levels,” after the Trump administration vowed to tighten sanctions on Iran.

An agreement between Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other OPEC members to cut production has helped increase global spare capacity to 3.3 million barrels per day, IEA said.

Spare capacity is idle production that can be brought online within 90 days.

Saudi Arabia has plenty of room to help compensate for lost Iranian production, after its production dropped to 9.8 million barrels per day last month, compared to a record 11.1 million barrels per day it produced in November.

U.S. shale can also pick up the slack, IEA said, with oil supplies there projected to grow by 1.6 million barrels per day there, while infrastructure bottlenecks “are easing.”

RUSSIA PLANS TO RATIFY PARIS AS TRUMP BEGINS EXIT PROCESS: Russia plans to ratify the Paris climate agreement, possibly by the end of 2019, the state-run news agency TASS reported Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev said in a statement that the Paris accord “lays a solid legal foundation” for the long-term management of climate change.

Russia’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels.

The Trump administration has decided to pull out of the landmark Paris climate agreement. Formal proceedings for the U.S.’ exit from the United Nations agreement will begin next year.

INTERIOR SECRETARY’S FIRST ACTION AFTER BEING SWORN IN IS ON COMBATING WILDLIFE TRAFFICKING: Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s first action on the same day he was sworn in was to sign a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam to combat the illegal practice of wildlife trafficking that is rampant in Asia.

“Wildlife trafficking is a global problem that demands strong partnerships, and we are working to make that a reality,” Bernhardt said.

The MOU was something that has been in the works for over four years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had begun the process under the Obama administration.

Guarding the world: The wildlife service’s law enforcement division is also hoping to place a law enforcement attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, as well as additional targeted locations around the world, the agency announced.

Trump held a closed swearing-in ceremony for Bernhardt at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

Bernhardt has prioritized reforming the Fish and Wildlife Services’ management of the Endangered Species Act to be more favorable to development and energy production.

BARRASSO INTRODUCES DRAFT LEGISLATION TO ADDRESS NUCLEAR WASTE: Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, released draft legislation Wednesday to reform the nation’s nuclear waste storage policies.

The bill mirrors legislation that passed the House by a bipartisan margin last year, which was sponsored by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill. The bill would authorize an interim storage program before the long-stalled Yucca Mountain project in Nevada is approved. It would also authorize land transfers and licensing decisions related to the Yucca Mountain project.

“It’s time for Washington to fulfill its long-overdue promise to permanently and safely dispose of spent nuclear fuel,” Barrasso said.

The Rundown

Bloomberg Trump considering waiving Jones Act mandate for natural gas

Washington Post Trump Interior appointees face investigation for possible ethical misconduct

New York Times Blamed for wildfires, PG&E seeks higher electricity rates

BuzzFeed News These scientists are changing how they live to cope with climate change

Salt Lake Tribune Feds stack Bears Ears advisory group with critics of monument


WEDNESDAY | April 24

8:30 a.m., 4300 Nebraska Avenue NW. The American University (AU) Center for Environmental Policy holds a conference on "EPA and the Future of Environmental Protection," April 23-24.

FRIDAY | April 26

9 a.m., Dallas. The EarthX environmental expo, April 26-28, kicks off in Texas, the largest environment and energy gathering. Former Trump climate advisor George David Banks will be addressing the expo’s energy conference, along with conservative clean energy advocates ClearPath, with Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-SC, opening the conference.


10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing to consider the following nominations: Daniel Jorjani to be solicitor of the Department of the Interior; and Mark Lee Greenblatt to be inspector general of the Department of the Interior.