Late last week, the House of Representatives announced they were seeking additional funding for the Cash for Clunkers program. The program, which allocated 1 billion dollars in subsidies and government assistance to those trading older, less fuel efficient cars for newer models with better gas mileage, will shut down Tuesday without new funding despite being scheduled to run through November. According to multiple sources, the House passed a bill on Friday securing 2 billion dollars in funding to continue the program. The Senate is slated to vote on the bill this week.
I fully support stimulating the economy in an effort to make life better, especially when that stimulus comes in the form of a plan to get more fuel efficient cars on the road. I couldn’t care less that the Cash for Clunkers program is more effective at shipping dollars to foreign car companies, but it seems counterintuitive when the plan was also intended to help save the auto industry, as the auto industry is a symptom of a far greater issue (I’ll get to that later). Adding 2 billion to the program, while seemingly noble at first, has a big hurdle to cross:
Where’s the money coming from?
Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri is one of the many senators who are wary of adding new funding. Many in the Senate would consider rerouting other stimulus money, but it begs the question from where. here have been reports that the 2 billion will be coming out of energy loans intended to develop better renewable energy sources. If that’s true, we may simply be trading our long-term future along with our clunkers.
Renewable and alternative energy was an important piece to Obama’s campagin for the presidency, and his early maneuvers showed a lot of follow-through. Cutting fuding from prospective changes could not only cost us in the short term by restricting research and expansion of new and more efficient types of power, but in the long term by stunting our advancement and maintaining our dependence on environmentally unfriendly power sources. That’s not a trade I’m fond of.
It’s a near certainty that the Cash for Clunkers program will pass the Senate, but not without some changes. Environmentalists have pointed out that the fuel-efficiency upgrade required is paltry and virtually non-existent. An owner of a 2002 Toyota 4Runner (16 MPG) could upgrade to a 2009 model (18 MPG). While Senators Diane Feinstein of California and Susan M. Collins of Maine both want the required gas-mileage increase to be better, my favorite idea comes from Ed Wagner, a bicyclist. He suggests that Cash for Clunkers should allow for people to trade in their cars for bicycles, which is the ultimate gas-mileage upgrade.
As much as I love the idea of a bicycle riding public, the current urban design of the US makes it impossible for many to bike, bus or walk. This is the flaw of the American dream itself. Our desire for the suburban home with a backyard has sprawled us past the point of public and man-powered transport, and without a serious look at massive, nation-wide urban-renewal, as well as a social shift to being able to live in smaller shared spaces, we are doomed to be attached to our cars and trucks.