Why are environmentalists seeing red over an ostensibly green program like "cash for clunkers"?
At first blush, the success of the government's "cash for clunkers" program appears like a win for both the auto industry and the environment, a shining example of the way the Obama administration wants to rev up the economy by encouraging consumers and businesses to go green. So why is expanding such an ostensibly green program making environmentalists and members of Congress see red?
Cash for clunkers is clearly popular, but it isn't exactly environmentally friendly, say critics. After the initial $1 billion was used up in less than a week, Congress is now proposing to extend the program with an additional $2 billion.
That money would come out of the $6 billion that the Department of Energy received from the federal stimulus plan and has used to fund start-ups that build lightweight wind turbines, design new ways to store energy on electric grids, and create cheap solar panels for rooftops.
If the Senate approves the extension, the DOE would have not have the money to seed any new initiatives; $4 billion has already been allocated to specific programs.
"If you're looking at it from the perspective of growing a green economy, spending money on innovative green technology is a better use," says Carol Lee Brown, senior manager for the Transportation Program at Ceres, a Boston-based environmental group.
Brown and other environmental advocates say the program is more focused on helping the auto industry than putting fuel-efficient cars on the road. Under the clunkers program, consumers receive rebates of between $3,500 and $4,500 when they turn in cars that are less than 25 years old and that get 18 miles per gallon or less, and then buy a new car.
But consumers don't necessarily have to buy a particularly fuel-efficient car with the rebate. They could trade in a gas-guzzling sport utility vehicle for, say, a new truck that gets only slightly better gas mileage.
"You're putting money out there and allowing people to make bad decisions," says Ann Mesnikoff, the director of the Green Transportation Program for the Sierra Club. The way the plan is currently written, we "don't know if we're seeing a big trend in people buying more fuel-efficient vehicles" says Mesnikoff.
So does anyone other than environmental groups have a problem with current funding strategy? Despite supporting the expansion of cash for clunkers...Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu have said they wish the funding didn’t come from the renewable energy stimulus projects.
But so far, that concern hasn't translated into much action. The Senate seems poised to pass the bill more or less as it is now, with no additional strengthening of the MPG requirements. "If I could write it, I would prefer it to say that people had to buy high fuel-economy vehicles," Mesnikoff says.
Until that happens, the economic and environmental benefits of the program may not truly be in sync.
Oh, that's right...for some, their shallow environmentalist pretenses end at the edge of their partisan fealty to any scheme peddled by the Democrat/Obama ruling junta, no matter how perverse a misallocation of "green" project funding.
Back to the ole Treasury printing press it is, I guess....'cause that's about as close to "green" as this program will ever be.