CBS’s Smith: ‘How Overdue’ Are Fuel Emissions Standards?

Harry Smith and Carol Browner, CBS While reporting on the Obama administration’s plan to impose higher fuel standards on cars and trucks on Tuesday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Harry Smith asked Obama environmental advisor Carol Browner: "As a former long-time administrator of the EPA, how overdue is this?" Browner replied: "It is long overdue. You know, Congress stood in the way of tougher fuel economy standards for a long time. That finally was fixed."

Smith did question the higher price of cars for consumers that would result from the tougher standards: "With the added price tag cost to these average vehicles, and much higher -- higher gas mileage and fewer emissions, what is my incentive, what is my dollar incent – incentive to buy a car like this?" Browner argued that consumers would save money in the long-run due to better gas mileage: "...whether you want to buy a bigger car or a smaller car, they will all be more efficient, and cleaner. So we're preserving the consumer choice, but giving every consumer the opportunity to save money at the pump." Smith replied: "Will SUVs and pickup trucks go the way of the dinosaur, though?"

Despite Browner’s assurances, Smith fretted that low gas prices would be a disincentive for consumers to want to spend more money on cars themselves: "But we're seeing now with the price of gas going down that people are -- are less apt to buy these lower fuel vehicles -- lower fuel-burning vehicles?" At the end of the interview he asked about a possible solution to that problem: "And do you anticipate a higher national gas tax?" Browner dodged the issue: "What we think the consumer wants are cleaner cars and that's what the President is announcing today."

Prior to Smith’s interview with Browner, correspondent Bill Plante reported on the proposed fuel standards: "These are dramatically higher emissions standards. They are designed to satisfy the auto industry, give them uniform goals, and at the same time, satisfy states like California, which want tougher pollution limits." A clip of David Weiss from the left-wing Center for American Progress offered glowing support of the plan: "This is a win-win-win. We're going to cut pollution, reduce oil use, and build cleaner cars for the world's market."

Plante did acknowledge some criticism: "But critics say there's no evidence that new standards will clean up the environment. And they charge the White House is pushing the move on struggling automakers who can't afford to fight the plan." The toughest "critic" Plante could find was Cliff Winston from the left-leaning Brookings Institution, who simply explained the weak position of American auto companies: "If they were to resist now, that would probably lead to a public outcry, and you know, be the end of any help for subsidies and bailouts that they're going to get."

Plante concluded his report with talking points similar to those of Browner: "Now, the administration says that the new standards will save nearly 2 billion barrels of oil. But they come at a cost, of about $1,300 a car by 2016. Of course, you make some of that up in using less fuel."

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASE:

JULIE CHEN: President Obama gets tough with automakers today as he gets set to announce strict new emissions standards for cars and trucks. But will going green lead to sticker shock? We'll head to the White House to find out.

7:05AM SEGMENT:

JULIE CHEN: Later today, President Obama is expected to announce sweeping new plans for the first-ever government control on car and truck emissions. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante joins us with the story. Good morning, Bill.

BILL PLANTE: Good morning, Julie. These are dramatically higher emissions standards. They are designed to satisfy the auto industry, give them uniform goals, and at the same time, satisfy states like California, which want tougher pollution limits. The new national standards combine gas mileage and tail pipe greenhouse gas emissions. By 2016 cars will have to average 42 miles per gallon, light trucks 27, for a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon. A big jump from the current 25 miles a gallon.

DANIEL WEISS [CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS]: This is a win-win-win. We're going to cut pollution, reduce oil use, and build cleaner cars for the world's market.

PLANTE: Joining the President today, the governors of Michigan and California, along with many auto executives. But critics say there's no evidence that new standards will clean up the environment. And they charge the White House is pushing the move on struggling automakers who can't afford to fight the plan.

CLIFF WINSTON [BROOKINGS INSTITUTION]: If they were to resist now, that would probably lead to a public outcry, and you know, be the end of any help for subsidies and bailouts that they're going to get.

PLANTE: Now, the administration says that the new standards will save nearly 2 billion barrels of oil. But they come at a cost, of about $1,300 a car by 2016. Of course, you make some of that up in using less fuel. Harry.

HARRY SMITH: Bill Plante at the White House this morning. Thank you. Joining us now from Washington, Carol Browner, the President's top adviser on energy and climate matters. Good morning.

CAROL BROWNER: Good morning.

SMITH: You have the cooperation of the auto companies on this, which is maybe some surprise to some folks. But these are huge, significant changes. Are you confident these companies can do it in this short time frame?

BROWNER: We are. We worked very, very closely with all of the car companies, with California, with the environmental groups, to achieve this agreement, and to propose these national standards. This is truly historic. We will give the American people cleaner, more fuel efficient cars, and give the companies the certainty and predictability they need to make those cars.

SMITH: As a former long-time administrator of the EPA, how overdue is this?

BROWNER: It is long overdue. You know, Congress stood in the way of tougher fuel economy standards for a long time. That finally was fixed. But what we've done here today is we've taken both the EPA and the DOT authority. We've recognized California's request for cleaner cars. We've woven it together to give people what they want.

SMITH: Help us understand incentive, though, for buyers. Because right now, the price -- average price of a gallon of gas is about $2.50 around the country. With the added price tag cost to these average vehicles, and much higher -- higher gas mileage and fewer emissions, what is my incentive, what is my dollar incent – incentive to buy a car like this? Why wouldn't I just hang onto my old, heavy pickup truck?

BROWNER: Well, you save money every time you go to the pump. Your car will go further on a gallon of gas-

SMITH: But we're seeing now with the price of gas going down that people are -- are less apt to buy these lower fuel vehicles -- lower fuel-burning vehicles?

BROWNER: Well, historically, the program was a fleet average. And so you off set your bigger cars by making smaller cars. What we're doing here is proposing standards for every category of car. So whether you want to buy a bigger car or a smaller car, they will all be more efficient, and cleaner. So we're preserving the consumer choice, but giving every consumer the opportunity to save money at the pump.

SMITH: Will SUVs and pickup trucks go the way of the dinosaur, though? Will they look anything the way they look now?

BROWNER: What we've done here is set standards for them so they will be cleaner. But for those consumers who want to continue to buy those vehicles, they can do so, they'll just be cleaner and that's better for the environment and better for the consumer.

SMITH: And do you anticipate a higher national gas tax?

BROWNER: What we think the consumer wants are cleaner cars and that's what the President is announcing today.

SMITH: Okay. Alright, thanks so much, Carol Browner, do appreciate it.

BROWNER: Thanks.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC