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Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The EPA's plan to weaken vehicle standards underscores a broader problem facing Democrats and their environmental allies: They have little leverage against Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the man now leading the agency, compared to his predecessor.

Between the lines: Scott Pruitt attracted massive press attention, but that was largely thanks to his big ethical problems and the bizarre trappings of the scandals. Now, Wheeler is advancing a very similar agenda — but without the heavy ethical baggage.

In addition, his experience and knowledge of the Clean Air Act could make his efforts less vulnerable to successful court challenges.

Driving the news: EPA and the Transportation Department issued draft rules today that would dismantle Obama-era vehicle mileage and carbon emissions regulations.

  • One option under consideration is to freeze the standards at 2020 levels while revoking California's waiver to set tougher emissions rules that roughly a dozen other states follow.

Why it matters: It shows the challenge of wringing carbon emissions out of transportation, which has recently supplanted electricity generation as the largest source of U.S. CO2 output.

What they're saying: An exchange at a Senate hearing Wednesday at the Environment and Public Works Committee captured this dynamic nicely. Here's what Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told Wheeler:

"As you know I viewed your predecessor’s tenure as one characterized by tawdry personal behavior in office, a desire to do damage to the agency that he led, a flagrant absence of transactional integrity, and horrible environmental policies. ... I see you as a remedy to three of those four."

What's next: The Trump administration proposal upends Obama-era standards for cars and light trucks that extend through 2025.

  • One key option would freeze the combined standards at 2020 levels of roughly 35 miles per gallon through 2026.
  • Wheeler told lawmakers yesterday that the agency will take comment on a range of options from that "flatline" approach to maintaining the Obama standards (which amount to around 50 miles per gallon in 2025).

Go deeper: Read the EPA's new draft fuel economy rules.

Go deeper

DOJ watchdog to probe whether officials sought to alter election results

Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump exit Air Force One in West Palm Beach, Florida, on Jan. 20. Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Justice Department's inspector general will investigate whether any current or former DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome" of the 2020 election, the agency announced Monday.

Driving the news: The investigation comes in the wake of a New York Times report that alleged that Jeffrey Clark, the head of DOJ's civil division, had plotted with President Trump to oust acting Attorney General Jeffery Rosen in a scheme to overturn the election results in Georgia.

1 hour ago - Podcasts

Google's chief health officer Karen DeSalvo on vaccinating America

Google on Monday became the latest Big Tech company to get involved with COVID-19 vaccinations. Not just by doing things like incorporating vaccination sites into its maps, but by helping to turn some of its offices and parking lots into vaccination sites.

Axios Re:Cap goes deeper into what Google is doing, and why now, with Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google's chief health officer who previously worked at HHS and as health commissioner for New Orleans.

Biden signs order overturning Trump's transgender military ban

Photo: Tom Brenner/Getty Images

President Biden signed an executive order on Monday overturning the Trump administration's ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

Why it matters: The ban, which allowed the military to bar openly transgender recruits and discharge people for not living as their sex assigned at birth, affected up to 15,000 service members, according to tallies from the National Center for Transgender Equality and Transgender American Veterans Association.