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April 30, 2009

More About "Cash for Clunkers"

Ford_Escape_Hybrid This is a guest post by Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club's Green Transportation Campaign.

 “I think that like any investor, the American taxpayer has a right to scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is not just being thrown down the drain.”  ---President Obama

Now that we are all part owners of two of what were once called the Big 3 – GM and Chrysler, we need to make sure our dollars are not being thrown down the drain – or worse, helping to move gas guzzlers off the lot.  With Congress on the verge of a “cash for clunker” deal, Americans must stay involved. This could be another bailout or it could be good policy.


“Cash for Clunkers” is the affectionate name for creating an incentive for owners of gas guzzling vehicles to trade them in for a more efficient new vehicle.  The purpose of such a program is to stimulate auto sales while accelerating the pace at which we shift from a low mileage to a higher mileage fleet of vehicles. The Sierra Club endorsed Senator Feinstein’s (and Rep. Israel's) approach to achieving this goal – ensuring that what we crush is truly a gas guzzler and that what we help consumers purchase is truly an efficient new (at least 25% above the fuel economy standard) or used vehicle, or help paying for public transit.

President Obama endorsed the idea of “cash for clunkers” several weeks ago, but now the auto industry is doing its best to ensure that the fuel economy veneer on the package is paper thin (I will refrain from lipstick on pig analogies).  You could trade in a truck that gets 16 miles per gallon and get $3,000 dollars to buy a truck that gets 18 miles per gallon – less than the low fuel economy standards for trucks.

This is an opportunity – take the worst of the worst off the road and help automakers sell the best of what they have.  First, let’s crush vehicles that are 16 mpg or less.  At the very least, a new truck should meet applicable fuel economy standards without exception. Automakers already produce a fleet of cars that exceeds the 27.5 mpg standard that has been in place since 1986, so we should ensure our dollars help sell cars that are above that ancient average.  There are plenty of these out there and consumers can at least feel good about the vehicle they purchased. 

These criteria would at least make this a better deal for Americans. (We still stand by the Feinstein/Israel approach as the most cost-effective way to get the job done – save oil while stimulating sales).  And taxpayers would know that the billions we spend to help sell cars will help reduce our addiction to oil and cut global warming pollution. With GM (which has a bevy of new gas guzzling trucks waiting to sold) in the negotiating room it is hard to get a deal that doesn’t sink to rock bottom – but we should exercise our right to “scrutinize what’s being proposed.”

Click below to read the letter a coalition sent to Rep. Israel about his vehicle legislation. (PDF)

Download Support HR 520 - Accelerated Vehicle Retirement

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