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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt during a Cabinet meeting on May 9, 2018, at the White House. Photo: Al Drago-Pool via Getty Images

The Trump administration sent its proposed revisions of automotive fuel-economy standards to its budget office last week, the final step before public rollout. A key effort to address climate change, this Obama-era regulatory plan would greatly reduce car and light-truck greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2025, while the Trump administration seeks to freeze standards after 2020.

What to watch: The freeze would spark a legal battle with California, which wants to maintain the Obama-era standards. Automakers publicly say they don't want this fight, but they set the stage by investing in groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, whose Myron Ebell headed the Trump EPA transition, and asking the transition team to reconsider the standards two days after the election. Now, they might look for California to make concessions before it enters the risky litigation process.

Various parties to this debate claim impacts on other issues — jobs, safety and energy dominance — but the critical issue at stake is the climate. Transportation has become the nation's largest source of GHG emissions; the weaker the standards, the less these emissions get trimmed. Trump's freeze would likely lead to an excess of over 100 million metric tons of GHG by 2035.

Automakers are trying to persuade the administration to maintain enough of a fuel-economy gain to keep California on board. But, given that a more moderate proposal could reflect poorly on Trump, it might be too late to control the anti-regulatory juggernaut they've unleashed.

The bottom line: California may soon feel pressured to either make significant concessions or gamble that the Supreme Court won't rule against the state's ability to set its own standards. Either way, things don't look good for the planet.

John M. DeCicco is a research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

Go deeper

Biden's Day 1 challenges: Systemic racism

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor (PA Images)/Getty Images

Advocates are pushing President-elect Biden to tackle systemic racism with a Day 1 agenda that includes ending the detention of migrant children and expanding DACA, announcing a Justice Department investigation of rogue police departments and returning some public lands to Indigenous tribes.

Why it matters: Biden has said the fight against systemic racism will be one of the top goals of his presidency — but the expectations may be so high that he won't be able to meet them.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
52 mins ago - Health

Most Americans are still vulnerable to the coronavirus

Adapted from Bajema, et al., 2020, "Estimated SARS-CoV-2 Seroprevalence in the US as of September 2020"; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

As of September, the vast majority of Americans did not have coronavirus antibodies, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Why it matters: As the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout most of the country, most people remain vulnerable to it.

Trump set to appear at Pennsylvania GOP hearing on voter fraud claims

President Trumpat the White House on Tuesday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Trump is due to join his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Wednesday at a Republican-led state Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing to discuss alleged election irregularities.

Why it matters: This would be his first trip outside of the DMV since Election Day and comes shortly after GSA ascertained the results, formally signing off on a transition to President-elect Biden.