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Jul 312009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Americans may be dopes about a lot of things, but they recognize a good shopping deal when it comes their way.

Given the opportunity to receive thousands of dollars to jettison their rusted out, gas-hog cars, they said “yes”. In fact, they googled the nearest dealership and ran off to trade in those pick-ups and sport vehicles, apparently sucking up nearly all of the $1 billion set aside for the Cash for Clunkers program in a couple of weeks.

And to think, gas isn’t even $2.50 a gallon.

Turns out an estimated 240,000 people took advantage of the program (the numbers are still being reported), which gave people $3,500 or $4,500 for their nearly worthless trade-ins as an incentive to get them into higher gas mileage, less-polluting vehicles. The program greased the engine of the somnambulant US auto industry, perking up dozing sales guys and raising hopes of better days ahead in Detroit, though not everyone was happy that the new cars only had to get slightly better gas mileage (22 mph) than the old ones.

Lack of environmental chutzpah wasn’t the program’s only hang up. The accounting has run about as smoothly as a Yugo, with the US Department of Transportation reporting that it doesn’t really know how many deals were made under the program and dealers saying that many of their submissions for reimbursement have been rejected for inadequate paperwork. The dealers are nervous, according to news reports, because they have to crush the engines of the old cars, rendering them useless, before trying to collect.

Friday, just after the White House announced that the giveaway could only be guaranteed to last through the weekend (and no doubt fearing that the barbarians would crash the gates with their trashed-out Explorers if the party was shut down), the US House passed a bill that would earmark another $2 billion to continue Cash for Clunkers. Lawmakers had gone into hyper-drive over the issue, proclaiming that the program’s success is evidence of its need (which wouldn’t pass muster in a logic course, but…hey).

Next comes the Senate, that more conservative body, which whittled the first version of Clunkers down. They’ll have next week to craft their own version, before the scheduled summer recess. People are saying it’s a toss up whether it happens.

So heads, we’re an oil-dependent nation; tails, just subsidy-dependent.

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