The Spectacle Blog

Cash for Clunkers an Environmental Bust

Enviros end up trashing the environment with wasteful "Cash for Clunkers" program.

By on 1.12.13 | 6:54AM

The Obama administration knows how to waste money in style.  It lavished taxpayer funds on the "Cash for Clunkers" program, paying people $4500 to turn in their old cars (which were to be destroyed).  The idea was to increase the demand for new cars; it would have been better just to have written checks to Government Motors and the other auto companies.  At least the program would have been simpler and less subject to fraud.

One of the many delightful consequences of the program was to increase the cost of used cars.  Which, of course, most hurt people of limited means, who were more likely to purchased "previously owned" vehicles.  Not that that would much bother members of the administration or Congress.  They made enough not to feel the pinch. 

A number of smaller used car dealers also went out of business.  Just not as much stock to sell.  But then, why should that be a concern of Washington?

Now comes a report that the program was an environmental bust as well.  It seems that destroying cars isn't particularly environmentally friendly.  Explains freelancer Andri Antoniades:

According to E Magazine, the “Clunkers” program, which is officially known as the Car Allowance Rebates System (CARS), produced tons of unnecessary waste while doing little to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The program's first mistake seems to have been its focus on car shredding, instead of car recycling. With 690,000 vehicles traded in, that's a pretty big mistake.

According to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), automobiles are almost completely recyclable, down to their engine oil and brake fluid. But many of the “Cash for Clunkers” cars were never sent to recycling facilities. The agency reports that the cars’ engines were instead destroyed by federal mandate, in order to prevent dealers from illicitly reselling the vehicles later.

The remaining parts of each car could then be put up for auction, but program guidelines also required that after 180 days, no matter how much of the car was left, the parts woud be sent to a junkyard and shredded.

Shredding vehicles results in its own environmental nightmare. For each ton of metal produced by a shredding facility, roughly 500 pounds of “shredding residue” is also produced, which includes polyurethane foams, metal oxides, glass and dirt. All totaled, about 4.5 million tons of that residue is already produced on average every year. Where does it go? Right into a landfill.

E Magazine states recycling just the plastic and metal alone from the CARS scraps would have saved 24 million barrels of oil. While some of the “Clunkers” were truly old, many of the almost 700,000 cars were still in perfectly good condition. In fact, many that qualified for the program were relatively “young,” with fuel efficiencies that rivaled newer cars.

And though the point was to get less fuel efficient cars off the roads, with only 690,000 traded in, and over 250 million registered in the U.S., the difference in pollutant levels seems pretty negligible.

Oops!

Well, never mind.  All that matters is good intentions, and no doubt the second Obama administration will have a lot of new initiatives that will work out better!

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