"Cash for Clunkers" Moves Forward

The House approved a plan on Tuesday that would give drivers up to $4500 when they trade their old cars and trucks for new, more fuel-efficient ones. The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act (CARS), or "Cash for Clunkers," is being touted in some circles as a big step forward for climate and economy. Environmentalists, however, are not so easily convinced.

If passed in the Senate, consumers could get $3500 when they upgrade to a car that either gets 22 miles per gallon or at least 4 mpg more than the car they're trading in. The "cash" goes up to $4500 when the "clunker" is traded for a car getting at least 10 more mpg. The standard for light trucks and SUVs is lower, with just a 2 mpg and 5 mpg improvement garnering $3500, and $4500, respectively.

Many environmentalists say "cash for clunkers" is a greenwash -- an easy way to encourage Americans to buy new cars and feel good about it in an ailing economy. A March `09 Guardian article says about 15 percent of a car's carbon footprint comes from its manufacture, so unless you've been driving your car for twenty years or more it's actually "greener" to keep driving than it is to buy a brand new, more fuel efficient model.

The Senate is already debating Cash for Clunkers, and Senators Feinstein, Collins and Schumer are ready with a slightly more stringent counterproposal.