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How would Trump’s fuel standard rules affect Americans?

The Trump administration called on Thursday for rolling back the Obama-era fuel standards to make cars get better gas mileage and emit less pollution. Judy Woodruff gets reaction from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who plans to join the legal challenge, as well as Mary Kate Hopkins from Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian advocacy group that has applauded the move.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We invited Republican leaders from several states to appear tonight, but none was able to join us.

    But Americans For Prosperity, which is the libertarian advocacy group backed by the conservative billionaire Charles Koch, has been opposed to the Obama rules and applauded today's move.

    Mary Kate Hopkins is the group's policy manager. And she joins me now.

    Mary Kate Hopkins, welcome.

    You just heard Virginia's attorney general say what the administration is doing is bad for the environment. Just at a moment when climate change is becoming a greater and greater concern, the administration is going in the wrong direction.

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Well, what we at AFP are concerned about, what our activists are concerned about are really the impacts on consumers and how to balance that with the impacts on the environment.

    So we're focused on the extraordinary rate at which the CAFE standards have increased the cost of vehicles in the United States and really priced average Americans out of the new car market, and really to the negligible impact on the environment, as even the Obama administration admitted when they finalized their rule.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, your argument is that it wouldn't have a significant effect on the environment to roll back — in other words, to keep the efficiency standards where they are now?

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Correct, yes.

    And what they would be doing is freezing them at the 2020 level, so not rolling anything back, simply not making it any worse. And, yes, the analysis that accompanied the rule that was released today said that it would have really a negligible impact on the future, maybe three one-thousandths of a degree Celsius over the next 80 or so years in terms of global temperatures.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So all the — we heard the attorney general refer to all the data, the evidence that went into coming up with these regulations during the Obama presidency.

    You're saying that didn't amount to anything?

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Well, it — even under the previous administration, they said that their entire slew of CAFE standards over the course of 15 years would only have an impact of two-one-hundredths of a degree Celsius. That accompanied their rule back in 2010.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about the cost argument?

    I — we hear the argument that you started out bringing up, which is the cost of the individual car, the average is going to is going to go up under the Obama era rules.

    Attorney General Herring and others are saying that's not really the case; it's going to be overridden by an increase, ultimately, in the cost of gasoline, and that people will be paying more than $1,000 — what did he say, $1,600 more a year at the pump.

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Right. And that's an argument we have seen from supporters of this mandate.

    What they're not telling you is that the underlying cost increase on vehicles is much higher. We have seen to this point increase of about $2,300 per vehicle due to the CAFE standards to this point. And there are projections that put that number at 70 — over $7,000 a vehicle, if we were to keep those standards in place for 2025 as they're set to go now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Let me go back to the environmental argument here.

    Even if it's a small improvement in the environment, isn't it worth it, I think, would be the argument of those on the other — other side of this, that isn't it worth it to take some steps to think that we're doing something — something's being done to protecting environment for all people?

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Right.

    And the way we see it, the way our activists see it, this is a government mandate. We have to weigh the costs and benefits. If someone — if we were able to see that this would have a significant benefit that outweighs the costs, maybe that would change the conversation.

    But at this point, the costs are so significant and so high and so impactful on American families, that they truly outweigh the benefits. And keep in mind also that our greenhouse gas emissions at the — in the United States are on a downward trend already.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To that point, scientists, though, are saying they see emissions overall as being far greater than what is healthy, what is good for society. They see the trend as going in a dangerous direction.

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Right.

    And what we can say to that is, we are on a downward trajectory. We are improving. Things have improved over the past few decades. We're not going to solve this problem in a day. If we try to make our mandate so strong that it essentially stops people from driving, that halts our economy, it keeps people from their jobs.

    I guess the question is, what costs are we willing to pay? And we think that we can find a reasonable balance between being stewards of our environment and also allowing people to live their everyday lives, to succeed, to prosper, and to use their vehicle to travel around as needed.

    So, we'd like to strike a balance on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The auto manufacturers, they don't seem particularly enthusiastic about what the Trump administration has announced. They're saying today, we will try to work this out, but they — they don't like the idea of two different sets of standards.

    It's clear they were already moving in the direction of trying to come up with more fuel-efficient cars. So when you don't have the auto manufacturers themselves on your side, what does that say?

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Well, I think that, yes, they don't want to have to change, when they have already been preparing for a certain rule.

    But there's enough lead time, with their freezing it at 2020 levels. There's a little bit of time for these manufacturers to kind of adjust their plans. Also, and manufacturers are talking about kind of having two different standards. A lot of what they're referring to is whether it's the national standard or a state-based standard, whether we allow states to create their own standards.

    And so what the Trump this is also doing, along with freezing the CAFE standards, is limiting the extent to which states can impose regulations on other states and on manufacturers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mary Kate Hopkins with Americans For Prosperity, thank you very much.

  • Mary Kate Hopkins:

    Thank you.

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