Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers

This is my maiden blog, so I am starting off with something easy.

I have been reading the rules of the $1 billion Cash for Clunkers program that was re-infused today with another $2 billion dollars, and I'm happy to see that it does a lot to save or bring back lost jobs, and that it improves the overall fuel efficiency of our nation's vehicle inventory. However, I am left with two lingering questions:

1) Why aren't cars 25 years and older included?

2) In environmental terms, what is the cost-benefit analysis?

According to CNN's Money, one of the thresholds for receiving a Federal rebate is that the trade-in car must be less than 25 years old. Also, the car must have a fuel economy of 18 mpg or less. I paid particular attention to these two requirements because I drive a 1989 Toyota Corolla that gets 30 miles to the gallon. So it appears my car meets the first requirement, but not the second.

But what is the point of keeping cars on the road that ARE older than 25 years old, and DO have a fuel efficiency rating of 18 mpg or less? It seems to me that including them in the rebate program would only help facilitate the two missions of revitalizing our economy, and safeguarding our environment.

Which leads me again to the second question: Has anyone compared the overall environmental cost and savings of building all these new cars instead of using the Federal capital investment toward greener transportation modes? I'm sure the information is available, but I haven't seen it brought up in the discussion. I'm not saying that it would be politically feasible to put ALL the money into a railway, subway or whatever, or even that I would advise doing so, but I would have liked to see the analysis.

Producing a brand new car requires a lot of natural resources, and the mining of iron ore, bauxite, petroleum, copper and lead among others(1). Transforming these raw materials also requires a lot energy, and a lot of water.

Consider for a moment, that one estimate suggests that up to 100,000 gallons of water is required to manufacture a single car(2), along with the House of Rep's estimate of 250,000 cars for the first $1 billion already spent, and one arrives at a number of 25 trillion gallons, or enough to fill nearly 38,000 olympic-sized swimming pools.

Again, I'm not suggesting that Cash for Clunkers is on the whole a bad idea. I'm a realist. I know that our nation has been in the grips of the worst economy since the Great Depression. And I know that the U.S. auto industry is a ready-made band-aid to ease the pain amongst the labor force. Yet, it is not an overall solution, and like everything else we buy in this country, there is little accounting or discussion about environmental impact. I hope to live the day when I see environmental impact statements on that sticker price.

1. University of Michigan. Available at:

2. Estimating Water Use: Available at: