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

Biden campaign using Instagram to mobilize celebrity supporters

Collins appears on the Build live interview series in November 2019. Photo: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

The Biden campaign is launching a new initiative today that will draft Hollywood celebrities for Instagram Live chats with campaign officials and other Biden supporters.

Why it matters: The campaign, called #TeamJoeTalks, is an attempt to open up a new front on social media, drawing on celebrities’ Instagram followers to help find and motivate voters while large parts of the country remain locked down.

Updated 17 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 11,458,291 — Total deaths: 534,460 — Total recoveries — 6,184,379Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 5 a.m. ET: 2,888,729 — Total deaths: 129,947 — Total recoveries: 906,763 — Total tested: 35,512,916Map.
  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona hot spot near capacity — Houston mayor warns about hospitals
  4. Public health: U.S. infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Former Trump official Tom Bossert says face masks “are not enough”
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control.
Column / Harder Line

Coronavirus topples 2020 energy and climate predictions

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In early January, I laid out 10 energy and climate change issues to watch this year. Spoiler alert: A pandemic was not on that list.

The big picture: The coronavirus has left no part of our world untouched, energy and climate change included. Let’s check in on my 2020 predictions at the halfway mark of this tumultuous year.