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Trump administration plans rollback of fuel standards, setting up legal fight with states

Over President Obama's tenure, rules were put in place that would have nearly doubled the average fuel economy standard in the U.S., which the Trump administration has argued goes too far. Now a new EPA proposal would set standards to far lower to protect manufacturers and consumers from costs. Judy Woodruff reports that Thursday's announcement sets up a looming legal battle with some states.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of President Trump's key ambitions has been to roll back or revoke actions taken by his predecessor, President Obama.

    On climate change, the administration says it believes that auto emission standards that were supposed to take effect in the next few years are too tough and hurt the U.S. economy.

    Thus, the president's latest move announced today, lowering car fuel efficiency requirements.

  • Barack Obama:

    So we raised fuel efficiency, helped consumers, helped improve air quality, and we're making better cars than ever.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Over his tenure, President Obama put in place rules that would have nearly doubled average fuel economy standards in the United States. His administration required that cars and light trucks be on track to meet average fuel efficiencies of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025, in an effort to curb tailpipe emissions of climate-changing pollutants.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We had unnecessary regulations that were hurting our economy and hurting our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Trump administration has long argued those standards went too far. Today's proposal would freeze current standards at 2020 levels, which require new vehicles to average roughly 30 miles per gallon.

    By 2021, the revised standards would be capped at 37 miles per gallon. But that would be far short of the Obama standards.

    Bill Wehrum, an assistant EPA administrator, told reporters on a call today that the Obama era rules already succeeded in cutting emissions, but making them even tougher would raise the average vehicle price tag by more than $2,300.

  • Bill Wehrum:

    What we want to do here is occupy a sweet spot here where we have good, aggressive standards in place, but not so aggressive that we create other kinds of problems that impose a much greater price on society here. We will leave the standards in a place where we're not imposing undue costs on manufacturers, we're not imposing undue costs on consumers, who want affordable vehicles.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wehrum said that rolling back fuel standards will allow Americans to afford newer and safer cars. The administration says that that mean up to 1,000 fewer traffic deaths every year.

    Some researchers, however, say they're doubtful that freezing fuel standards would significantly affect traffic deaths. Today's announcement also sets up a looming legal battle by rescinding tougher emissions standards in California and other states.

  • Xavier Becerra:

    We intend to stand firm and protect the existing clean car standards that our nation has in place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, vowed that some 20 states are prepared to fight back in court. Becerra said that the Trump administration plan would dramatically increase carbon emissions and gas prices.

  • Xavier Becerra:

    Who pays for this reckless action by the Trump administration? We do, at the pump and with our health.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Automakers are concerned about having two different standards. In a statement, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said, "We urge California and the federal government to find a commonsense solution."

    One of the states that has said it will go to court is Virginia.

    Mark Herring is the state's attorney general, and he is in Richmond.

    Attorney General Herring, thank you very much for joining us.

    The Trump administration says what it's doing will help the American economy. It says, as you heard, the Obama era standards were going to cost consumers more per car.

  • Mark Herring:

    No, that's nonsense.

    Judy, the Trump administration, time and again, has shown an incredible capacity to follow really bad public policy and oftentimes do it in an illegal way. And what they have announced today is, unfortunately, another example.

    Climate change is real. And here in Virginia, we see the effects of that with more severe weather. In Hampton Roads, for example, in Southeastern Virginia, they deal with nuisance flooding frequently. Even the world's largest Naval base at Norfolk faces billions of dollars in additional costs as a result of sea level rise.

    And one of the best things that we can do as a nation to help make sure that we have clean air and a safe planet is to make sure that we maintain fuel efficiency standards. And what the Trump administration is doing in trying to roll those back, it's going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars more at the pump.

    It's going to result in dirtier air and cost communities all across the country more money in dealing with the cost of climate change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what about the cost argument, though, Mr. Herring? They're saying this will add — what the Obama era regulation would do is ultimately add around an average of $2,300 more per vehicle.

  • Mark Herring:

    No. And their evidence is flimsy. It's not supported by the data. Even the car companies say this is a ridiculous idea.

    If the Trump administration is successful in rolling these back, it's actually going to cost Americans an estimated $1,600 a year at the pumps. It's going to result in tens of millions of metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. And what the Trump administration is doing is wrong and it's going to hurt us.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    They also argue that this is a safer move because they say, under the Obama era tougher standards, people would drive more and, therefore, there would be more car accidents, more deaths.

  • Mark Herring:

    And that's just not logical. The truth is, the Obama era rule that was put into place was done in a very deliberative manner, with a lot of input, with a lot of study.

    And that evidence, the scientific evidence and data showed that those standards could be implemented, that they could be done safely, and that it will make our air cleaner and cost Americans less at the pumps.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mr. Herring, Mr. Attorney General, let me ask you, though, about the — a number of critics have said — even when the Obama era regulations were put in place, there were arguments that this is really unrealistic, to try to hit 50 miles a gallon fuel efficiency in the time frame they had set out, that that was never going to happen, that the auto manufacturers weren't going to be able to meet that.

  • Mark Herring:

    You know, there have been instances in the past where we have heard concerns that, oh, well, maybe the technology won't be there, but whenever the standards have been set, companies have been able to adjust and been able to meet the standards when they're needed.

    And so, after a lot of careful thought, the rules need to be allowed to go into effect. It will be good for Americans because they will pay less at the pumps. The cars will be more if you fuel efficient, they will be cleaner and help meet our objectives on climate change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, what — you mentioned the auto manufacturers. The Auto Manufacturers Association put out a statement today asking — they're saying it's going to be very difficult for them to come up with standards for two — in other words, two different sets of standards, one for some states, another one for the federal government and other states.

    They're asking the states to work this out with the Trump administration, to come up with what they call a commonsense solution. Is that possible?

  • Mark Herring:

    Well, this is the beginning of the announcement of the proposed rule, so it will take a period of some time, perhaps months, for the rules to go through the administrative process.

    During that time, we will be working to provide a lot of information and rationale for why what they're trying to do is a bad idea. So I would hope that they'd take a look at that and consider it.

    And, you know, states have — should have the right to be able to have strict fuel efficiency standards. But, hopefully, the Trump administration will realize what they're proposing is not a good idea as this public process goes forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Virginia attorney general, Mark Herring, thank you very much.

  • Mark Herring:

    Thank you for having me.

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