THE LIGHTBULB

Iowa is one of the states hardest hit by President Trump's burgeoning trade war with China. The nation's corn-growing capital will also be home to a handful of tight races this November that could help determine not only the makeup of the House next year but for years to come. 

So less than a month before Election Day, Trump traveled to southwest Iowa on Tuesday to try and bolster his and his party's fortunes there in November and beyond.  He came to stump for Midwestern Republicans armed with a pledge to make good on a campaign promise poised to boost demand for corn grown by Iowa farmers worried recently about diminished trade with the huge Chinese market.

During a rally in Council Bluffs, Trump formally announced that he is directing the Environmental Protection Agency to allow for the year-round sale of gasoline containing a high blend of corn-based ethanol. Currently, gas stations are not permitted to sell that fuel mixture during the peak summertime driving season.

"My administration is protecting ethanol," Trump told a crowd of supporters, many wearing green-and-yellow "Make Farmers Great Again" hats.

Before Trump left on Air Force One, elected officials from Midwestern states gathered at the White House on Tuesday afternoon to be briefed on what one attendee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), called afterward a "very good victory for agriculture." 

The ethanol industry, now able to check off an item long on their wish list, echoed that sentiment. "This is a big day for us," said Geoff Cooper, head of the Renewable Fuels Association. "This announcement is something we've been waiting on for really a few years now."

Trump came to make his pitch for a series of Republican candidates running in tight races in Iowa. One of the Iowa Republicans whom Trump invited to speak on stage was Rep. David Young, who is in the midst of a tough reelection against Democrat Cindy Axne in Iowa's 3rd congressional district.  The race is close, with the Cook Political Report rating it as a toss-up, since the district encompasses much of the Iowa Democratic Party's traditional stronghold of Des Moines, the state's biggest city. Also tight is the Iowa gubernatorial race, with incumbent Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds being edged out slightly by Democrat Fred Hubbell in recent polls. The state's next governor will play a role in shaping of Iowa's congressional districts after the 2020 Census.

Trump tried to drive a wedge between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of supporting government requirements that call for a certain portion of the nation's gasoline supply to contain the corn-based fuel. "The Dems will end ethanol," Trump told Iowans on Tuesday. 

But the issue breaks down much more along geographic rather than partisan lines, with both Midwestern Republicans and Democrats supporting the ethanol mandates. “I’m pleased that the Administration is finally making good on its promise," Axne said in a statement, "but our farmers are still suffering from President Trump’s unnecessary tariffs."

Indeed, with its many soybean, pork and corn producers, Iowa's farming sector is poised to be hit especially hard by retaliatory tariffs from China, Canada and elsewhere. GOP strategists are worried about the trade war initiated by Trump turning some farmers off to the party.

Instead, the ethanol issue divides Congress between representatives from corn-growing states like Iowa and oil-producing states like Texas. The petroleum industry and its allies regard the renewable fuel standards as an unnecessary burden on refiners and argue gasoline containing more ethanol will wear down car engines more quickly.

"I’m concerned consumers will pay more over time because of wear and tear on their vehicles and I believe that increased use of ethanol can contribute to more pollution during the summer months," Rep. Gene Green (D-Tex.) said in a statement. 

That regional cleavage put Trump's former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoman, and Iowa's senators at loggerheads earlier this year after Pruitt proposed rewriting renewable-fuel rules. Grassley accused Pruitt of breaking Trump's promise during the 2016 GOP presidential primary to support ethanol.

Now with Pruitt gone after a series of spending and managing problems and Andrew Wheeler installed as acting administrator, Grassley suggested the EPA is running more in line with Trump's campaign pledge.  

"We've got Wheeler at the head of the EPA. I think that's a big help," Grassley told reporters Tuesday. "Wheeler's approach has been much more satisfying to me than Pruitt."

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THERMOMETER

— Storm watch: Hurricane Michael rapidly strengthened into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane on Wednesday morning as it barreled toward Florida. It could become the most intense hurricane on record to strike the Florida Panhandle, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. The storm is expected to make landfall by Wednesday afternoon. "The National Weather Service warned many buildings could be completely washed away and that ‘locations may be uninhabitable for an extended period’ after the storm," Samenow writes.

Officials prepare for “monstrous storm”: Governors in Florida, Alabama and Georgia declared emergencies in anticipation of the system. And Trump approved an emergency declaration in Florida. He said officials were “very well prepared” for the storm and warned it was “much bigger than they anticipated a week ago," The Post’s Luz Lazo and Mark Berman report.

More in Michael-related news:

  • Shelter struggles: Shelters in one coastal community in Florida won’t open during the storm because “they are considered reliable only up to a Category 2 hurricane,” according to the Associated Press.
  • Duke Energy customers may be hit again...: Duke Energy Corp. warned customers that Michael may trigger “several days” of outages in Florida. There could be 100,000 to 200,000 outages in the state. The company also warned of possible outages in the Carolinas that could last for days as well.
  • ...as the storm-weary still recover: And people in the Carolinas who are still picking up from Hurricane Florence’s destruction are worried that Michael will delay or disrupt that process. Both North and South Carolina “are still tallying damage, and homeowners are just starting to tear out moldy carpets, toss ruined furniture and negotiate with insurance adjusters,” the Associated Press reports.
  • Meanwhile: The Florida Democratic Party filed a lawsuit calling for the state's registration deadline to be extended at least a week due to the storm,  the Associated Press reports
  • City-by-city: Here's a forecast by city from The Post's Angela Fritz of where and how Michael will hit. 
POWER PLAYS

— "Which group drew it"?: Trump acknowledged that he would look at the United Nations report released over the weekend from more than 90 scientists warning of the dire consequences of climate change. But he is already raising doubts. “It was given to me. It was given to me, and I want to look at who drew, you know, which group drew it,” the president said to reporters, The Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reports. “But I will be looking at it, absolutely.” 

— "Inadvertently liked": The acting head of the EPA “liked” a blatantly racist post about the Obamas a few years ago and otherwise engaged with conspiracy theories on social media, The Post’s Eli Rosenberg reports. The posts, first reported by HuffPost, show that Andrew Wheeler “liked” a meme that was posted in January 2013 that showed former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama staring at a banana. Wheeler did not deny liking the post but insisted he did not remember doing so, saying through a spokesman he "inadvertently liked countless social media posts."

— Kavanaugh's first day: The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an appeal of a lower-court ruling that had struck down and Obama-era environmental rule regulating hydrofluorocarbons — and that happened to be authored by the new Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Reuters reports.

— EPA reportedly backs down from new energy-efficiency ratings: The agency hit the pause button on a plan to update its Energy Star program, a system of rating energy efficiency for office and industrial buildings, following backlash from landlords. “The agency created the program to offer tenants and owners an easy way to compare how much energy each building uses, and a sense of how expensive their energy bills would be,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “The EPA had planned to start certifying buildings with top ratings under the new system soon, but the agency agreed to postpone implementation after listening to landlords who felt the new methodology was confusing and it unfairly downgraded some buildings.”

— Renewable push in the District: A new bill proposed by five members of the D.C. Council would move Washington to 100-percent renewable energy by 2032, which would make it one of the nation’s most aggressive plans for reducing carbon emissions. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who drafted the bill, said it was important for local leaders to take charge on reducing emissions, The Post’s Peter Jamison reports. “What’s the alternative — to do nothing?” Cheh said. “We either do our best and encourage others to do their best and the national government to change their position on this, or we give in and accept catastrophe.”

OIL CHECK

—Another coal company in trouble: The Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal Co. has filed for bankruptcy to deal with its more than $1.4 billion in debt, the Associated Press reports. The firm is one of the oldest coal companies in the country and the fourth major company in the last three years to file for bankruptcy, joining Peabody Energy Corp., Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources.

— Oil watch: Prices for oil increased Tuesday "on growing evidence of falling Iranian crude exports before the imposition of new U.S. sanctions" and in part due to a partial oil production shutdown in the Gulf of Mexico because of Hurricane Michael, according to Reuters.

DAYBOOK

Today

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing on state conservation, recovery and management of wildlife.
  • The Energy Department and the Space Foundation host a panel discussion on “How Nuclear Energy Powers Deep Space Missions."
  • The Heritage Foundation holds an event on nuclear supplied partnerships within the OECD.

Coming Up

  • The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the “process for returning energy to the power grid after a system-wide blackout” on Thursday.
  • Environmental and Energy Study Institute and the Business Council for Sustainable Energy hold a briefingon climate action efforts on Friday.
  • Securing America’s Future Energy holds a briefing on “The Importance of Fuel Economy Rules for America’s Energy Security” on Friday.

EXTRA MILEAGE

— And the winner is...: An Alaskan brown bear known as 409 Beadnose has been crowned the winner of the “Fat Bear Week" contest at the Katmai National Park and Preserve, The Post’s Karin Brulliard reports.