Washington, Oct 9 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration is moving to allow year-round sales of gasoline with higher blends of ethanol, a boon for Iowa and other farm states that have pushed for greater sales of the corn-based fuel.
President Donald Trump is expected to announce he is lifting a federal ban on summer sales of high-ethanol blends during a trip to Iowa on Tuesday.
The long-expected announcement is something of a reward to Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman led a contentious but successful fight to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The veteran Republican lawmaker is the Senate's leading ethanol proponent and sharply criticized the Trump administration's proposed rollback in ethanol volumes earlier this year.
At that time Grassley threatened to call for the resignation of the Environmental Protection Agency's chief, Scott Pruitt, if Pruitt did not work to fulfill the federal ethanol mandate. Pruitt later stepped down amid a host of ethics investigations.
A senior administration official said Monday that the EPA will publish a rule in coming days to allow high-ethanol blends as part of a package of proposed changes to the ethanol mandate. The official spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Trump's announcement.
The change would allow year-round sales of gasoline blends with up to 15 percent ethanol. Gasoline typically contains 10 percent ethanol.
The EPA currently bans the high-ethanol blend, called E15, during the summer because of concerns that it contributes to smog on hot days, a claim ethanol industry advocates say is unfounded.
In May, Republican senators, including Grassley, announced a tentative agreement with the White House to allow year-round E15 sales, but the EPA did not propose a formal rule change.
The senior administration official said the proposed rule intends to allow E15 sales next summer. Current regulations prevent retailers in much of the country from offering E15 from June 1 to Sept. 15.
Lifting the summer ban is expected to be coupled with new restrictions on trading biofuel credits that underpin the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, commonly known as the ethanol mandate. The law sets out how much corn-based ethanol and other renewable fuels refiners must blend into gasoline each year.
The Renewable Fuel Standard was intended to address global warming, reduce dependence on foreign oil and bolster the rural economy by requiring a steady increase in renewable fuels over time. The mandate has not worked as intended, and production levels of renewable fuels, mostly ethanol, routinely fail to reach minimum thresholds set in law.
The oil industry opposes year-round sales of E15, warning that high-ethanol gasoline can damage car engines and fuel systems. Some car makers have warned against high-ethanol blends, although EPA has approved use of E15 in all light-duty vehicles built since 2001.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, many from oil-producing states, sent Trump a letter last week opposing expanded sales of high-ethanol gas. The lawmakers called the approach "misguided" and said it would do nothing to protect refinery jobs and "could hurt millions of consumers whose vehicles and equipment are not compatible with higher-ethanol blended gasoline."
The letter was signed by 16 Republicans and four Democrats, including Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a key Trump ally. New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, whose state includes several refineries, also signed the letter.
A spokeswoman for the Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade group, said allowing E15 to be sold year-round would give consumers greater access to clean, low-cost, higher-octane fuel while expanding market access for ethanol producers.
"The ability to sell E15 all year would also bring a significant boost to farmers across our country" and provide a significant economic boost to rural America, said spokeswoman Rachel Gantz.
Beijing, Oct 08 (AP/UNB) — Chinese authorities scrambled to contain a public relations mess over the disappearance of the former Interpol president during his trip home to China, saying Monday that he was being lawfully investigated for bribery and other crimes.
But the government's announcement did little to address concerns raised about the risks of appointing Chinese officials to leadership posts in international organizations. On Monday, the acting Interpol president told The Associated Press the agency had not been informed in advance of the Chinese probe into Meng Hongwei, who is also China's vice minister of public security.
On Sunday, Meng's wife made a bold public appeal from France to the international community to help locate her husband. The appeal — especially unusual for senior Chinese officials — cast an unwelcome light on extralegal detentions that have increasingly ensnared dissidents and allegedly corrupt or disloyal officials alike under President Xi Jinping's authoritarian administration.
In a sign of the urgent and possibly unplanned nature of the investigation, the Ministry of Public Security said in an announcement that top ministry officials met in the early hours of Monday to discuss Meng's case. The announcement said Meng was being investigated for accepting bribes and other crimes that were a result of his "willfulness."
"We should deeply recognize the serious damage that Meng Hongwei's bribe-taking and suspected violations of the law have caused the party and the cause of public security and deeply learn from this lesson," said the announcement about the meeting, chaired by Minister Zhao Lezhi.
Meng is the latest high-ranking official to fall victim to a sweeping crackdown by the ruling Communist Party on graft and perceived disloyalty. Most officials investigated by anti-graft authorities are quietly spirited away for questioning, cut off from contact from their families and not allowed access to lawyers, sometimes for months.
But that wasn't how it played out with Meng, 64, whose unexplained disappearance while on a trip home to China late last month prompted the French police to launch an investigation. The French government and Interpol also made their concerns known publicly in recent days.
By late Sunday night, China issued a terse announcement that Meng was in the custody of party investigators, and shortly after, Interpol said Meng had resigned as the international police agency's president. Meng could not be reached for comment.
The revelation that Chinese authorities would be bold enough to forcibly make even a senior public security official with international stature disappear has cast a shadow over the image Beijing has sought to cultivate as a modern country with the rule of law.
Willy Lam, a Chinese politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Meng's case shows how Chinese officials, no matter where they are, have to obey the Communist Party first and foremost. "This puts China's internal political struggle over and above the international norms on the rule of law," Lam said.
Rights groups had criticized Meng's appointment as head of Interpol in 2016. They pointed to the lack of transparency in China's legal system and the potential that the position would be misused to attack Beijing's political opponents — by using the police group's red notices to pursue political or economic fugitives, for instance.
"By putting him in the position of Interpol chief, China hoped to show its determination to govern by law," said Zhang Lifan, an independent Chinese political analyst. "But now the spokesman is in trouble and it has definitely dealt a blow to China's image."
Zhang said the haphazard way the case unfolded suggested that officials were acting as if in some state of emergency. "China proceeded to do this in an unconventional manner without caring about its image. It is rather an insult to Interpol," he said.
The acting president of Interpol, Kim Jong Yang, said it had not been told about the investigation of its chief. "I find it regrettable that the top leader of the organization had to go out this way and that we weren't specifically notified of what was happening in advance," Kim said in a phone interview.
"We still don't have sufficient information about what's happening (with Meng) or whether it has anything to do with Chinese domestic politics," he added.
Monday's statement on the ministry of public security's website provided no details about the bribes Meng allegedly took or other crimes he is accused of, but suggested that he was also in trouble for political lapses.
Officials at the meeting were told that they "must always maintain the political quality of being absolutely loyal to the party," the statement said.
Questions about Meng's case dominated a regular briefing by China's foreign ministry on Monday. The spokesman, Lu Kang, rejected the suggestion that China's handling of the Meng probe would hurt the country's image abroad, saying that it demonstrated Beijing's commitment to tackling graft.
"This has shown the Chinese government's firm resolve to crack down on corruption and crime," Lu said. "It has also made very clear that this case fully demonstrates that the party is firm in fighting corruption."
However, Lu did not directly answer questions about whether Meng would be formally arrested or allowed to hire a lawyer, or receive a visit from his wife.
Grace Meng, his wife, made an impassioned plea Sunday for help in bringing her husband to safety. She said she thought he sent an image of a knife before he disappeared in China as a way to warn her he was in danger.
She pledged to pursue "truth, justice and responsibility toward history" for her husband and young children's sake, and "for all the wives and children, so that their husbands and fathers will no longer disappear."
The emotional appeal was an extremely unusual move for the spouse of a senior Chinese official to take, given the risk that public lobbying might backfire and lead to a heavier punishment. Many don't have a chance to speak up even if they want to: spouses of officials under investigation, if they're in China, would likely be placed under 24-hour surveillance, Lam said.
"The terrible allegations made by Mrs. Meng provide the world with a rare window of opportunity to look at the way in which judicial processes are being handled in China," Lam said.
"It's not a pretty picture."
Washington, Oct 08 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Monday he has no plans to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, delivering a reprieve for the Justice Department official whose future has been the source of intense speculation for two weeks.
Trump told reporters at the White House that he had "a very good relationship" with Rosenstein and was eager to speak with him aboard Air Force One on a flight to Florida for the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference.
The flight provides an opportunity for their most extensive conversation since news reports last month that Rosenstein had discussed the possibilities in early 2017 of secretly recording Trump to expose chaos in the White House and invoking constitutional provisions to get him removed from office.
Those reports triggered an avalanche of speculation about the future of Rosenstein — and also the special counsel's investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign since the deputy attorney general appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to his post and closely oversees his work.
"I didn't know Rod before, but I've gotten to know him," Trump said Monday. "I look forward to flying with him. It'll be very nice."
The Justice Department denied that Rosenstein had proposed invoking the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and issued a statement that said the remark about recording the president was meant sarcastically.
Even so, Rosenstein told White House officials that he was willing to resign and arrived at the White House at one point with the expectation that he would be fired. He met in person with White House chief of staff John Kelly and spoke by phone with Trump during a tumultuous day that ended with him still in his job.
Rosenstein and Trump had been expected to meet at the White House days later, but that meeting was put off so that the president could focus on a confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. It was not immediately clear if the flight would substitute for the pre-planned White House meeting.
Trump had previously said that he would prefer not to fire the Justice Department's No. 2 official and that Rosenstein has told him he did not say the remarks attributed to him. Advisers had also cautioned Trump against doing anything dramatic in the weeks before the midterm elections next month.
Trump is scheduled to the police chiefs conference in Orlando. The Justice Department in the Trump administration has said reducing violent crime and supporting local enforcement are priorities.
The speculation over Rosenstein's future concerned Democrats, who feared that a dismissal could lead to Trump curtailing Mueller's probe. Although Trump has at times criticized his deputy attorney general, he has reserved his sharpest verbal attacks for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017 because of his own earlier involvement with the Trump campaign.
Both men will likely see their futures re-evaluated after the elections, Trump advisers have said.
Besides the meeting with Trump, Rosenstein has also agreed to a private meeting with House Republicans who want to question him about his reported statements on the president.
Kinshasa, Oct 8 (AP/UNB) — Congo's Health Ministry says at least 53 people are dead and more than 72 people have been hospitalized after a tanker truck collided with another truck in western Congo.
The ministry updated the figures Monday, saying the toll will likely rise, given the severity of burns suffered.
The accident happened in the village of Mbuba, not far from Kisantu city and about 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of the capital, Kinshasa.
Witnesses say villagers rushed to collect leaking fuel from the vehicles when a fire broke out. The fire quickly spread to nearby homes.
The ministry said 22 people died immediately.
President Joseph Kabila had Saturday ordered three days of national mourning.
An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the accident.
Palu, Oct 8 (AP/UNB) — The death toll from the devastating earthquake and tsunami on Indonesia's Sulawesi island neared 2,000 on Monday, but thousands more are believed unaccounted for and officials said search teams plan to stop looking for victims later this week.
The official toll hit 1,948, mostly in the hard-hit city of Palu, said Jamaluddin, an official from the disaster task force who uses one name. He corrected the number during a news conference in Jakarta after initially saying it was 1,944. He said a navy ship had docked in the area and opened a field hospital.
Willem Rampangilei, head of the National Board for Disaster Management, said there could be as many as 5,000 victims still buried in deep mud in Balaroa and Petobo, two of Palu's hardest-hit neighborhoods. But he added that number must be verified by his teams because it is an unofficial figure which came from village heads in the area. The Sept. 28 quake caused loose, wet soil to liquefy there. It is too soft to use heavy equipment for recovery, and decomposition of bodies is already advanced.
"It is impossible to rebuild in areas with high liquefaction risk such as Petobo and Balaroa," he said, adding villages there will be relocated.
Talks were underway with religious authorities and surviving family members to decide whether some areas could be turned into mass graves for victims entombed there with monuments built to remember them.
Officials reiterated that the search is expected to end on Thursday. However, the deadline could be extended if needed.
Rampangilei said life is starting to return to normal in some areas affected by the disaster. Immediate food and water needs have been met, and the local government has started to function again. Many schools have been completely destroyed, but he said classes will resume where possible. However, many students are still too scared to return.