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Aug 272009

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

The Cash for Clunkers program, which ended this week, may have been more environmentally friendly than originally thought. The concern among environmentalists was that by tossing away old cars and buying news ones, the program encouraged a throw-away society mentality — something Americans are often accused of.

The Sierra Club, says the organization’s policy analyst Jesse Prentice-Dunn, initially had concerns that the bill was weak.

“Now, looking at the final stats,” he says, “consumers did buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. One thing that was very encouraging, was that more than 84 percent traded in trucks and other gas guzzlers; and 59 percent purchased cars.”

They may not have purchased hybrids, says Prentice-Dunn — the Prius was No. 7 on the list of cars purchased. However, the fact that they bought more fuel-efficient cars was important. The Sierra Club, he says, was encouraged by consumers’ choices.

The Cash for Clunkers program made a point, says Prentice-Dunn. “It’s time for national discussion on fuel economy. [The program] helped move us forward on curbing global warming.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation said that under the CARS program — in which consumers traded in outdated vehicles for cash rebates on new car purchases — dealers submitted 690,114 sales totaling $2.88 billion, just shy of the plan’s $3 billion budget.

The biggest industry beneficiaries were Japanese automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, which accounted for 41 percent of the new vehicle sales, according to the Associated Press.

That outpaced Detroit automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, which had a share of nearly 39 percent. Toyota Motor Corp. led the industry with 19.4 percent of new sales, followed by General Motors Co. with 17.6 percent and Ford Motor Co. with 14.4 percent, the AP reported.

The Toyota Corolla was the most popular new vehicle purchased under the program. The Honda Civic, Toyota Camry and Ford Focus held the next three top spots. All four are built in the United States.

“This program has been a lifeline to the automobile industry, jump-starting a major sector of the economy and putting people back to work,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “At the same time, we’ve been able to take old, polluting cars off the road and help consumers purchase fuel efficient vehicles.”

The Cash for Clunkers program, as the Sierra Club’s website points out, put the consumer in the driver’s seat to make the best choice. To help with this decision, the site provided readers with advice on making a selection as well as charts to help buyers calculate their savings.

President Barack Obama signed the Clunkers bill, officially named the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save (CARS) Program, in June. The progam was wildly embraced by consumers when it began in July, and ran out of money in just one week. A second infusion of cash put it back in business in August.

Under the program owners of gas-guzzling cars could trade them in for a $3,500 to $4,500 voucher toward a new and more energy-efficient car. The gas guzzlers had to meet certain age requirements and get 18 miles or less to the gallon.

NPR reported on the program’s merits in a broadcast earlier this week, stating that questions still remain about the program’s effect on the environment. The broadcast quoted Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Climate Change Law, as saying the program was wonderful for the economy, but had only a “middling success for greenhouse gas emissions.” In order to make a large impact, says Gerrard, the government should have demanded a greater mileage differential between the required difference in mileage for old and new vehicles.

Prentice Dunn says he agrees that there should have been more stringent fuel economy considerations in the original CARS legislation. “The Sierra Club endorsed competing proposals in both the House and Senate,” he says. “However, over the duration of the Cash for Clunkers program, we’ve seen that consumers have valued fuel economy and indeed traded in clunkers in favor of more efficient vehicles. Would this be the first policy to turn to in an effort to solve climate change? No. However, because of consumer’s decisions, this program has stimulated auto sales, taken gas-guzzling SUVs off the road and replaced them with more efficient cars and importantly, put the benefits of efficient vehicles and reducing oil dependence and global warmings in water cooler and kitchen table conversations across the country.”

Rae Tyson with the US DOT believes the program was a win-win situation. “You get vehicles off the road that use more fuel and at the same time you send the old ones to salvage yards that can recycle the car parts.”

“The engine is destroyed,” says Tyson, “but then we give salvage yards time to recycle as much of the vehicle as possible. Aluminum, for instance, may end up as the metal of a soft drink can. The only parts that can’t be recycled are shredded and crushed. “The vehicle’s end products do not end up in the landfill, says Tyson.

The Sierra Club’s Prentice-Dunn notes that the law is clear. “The car dealers have to show proof that they have disabled the engines — [the part of the vehicle] which has us addicted to oil. Then car dealers have 180 days to recycle the parts, remove mercury and sell the rest as scrap.”

Prentice-Dunn says he’s impressed with  the Department of Transportation, which “has had to do the bulk of the heaving lifting in a short time frame” to put Cash for Clunkers into effect.

Irwin Dawid, a member of the Sierra Club’s California Air Quality Committee, acknowledges that while some environmentalists dismissed the program because of its lack of improvements on vehicle efficiency, the program did succeed on two levels.

“Not only did the motorist purchase a more efficient vehicle, but guzzlers were literally being scrapped. While many parts can be pulled for resale, the engine and the drive train go to the shredder, along with the rest of the clunker that is recycled. More importantly, from an air quality perspective, the gains are more substantial than the energy savings as new vehicles, including SUVs and trucks, are far cleaner than older models because of the advanced emission technology.”

Perhaps Cash for Clunkers was not green enough for everyone. Yet it did bring fuel economy to the forefront of a needed national conversation.

Copyright © 2009 | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Aug 082009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You gotta love the populist nature of this clunkers program. With our government trying to bail out our sinking economic ship with all sorts of leaky money buckets, this program seems to really hold up.

This is a program that’s a small shot of elixir, but works like magic compared with, say, the bank bailout wherein executives scurried into dark corners with large amounts of capital and snarled like testy dogs if we even inquired about it.

In the case of clunkers, the money is right there. It goes to the beleaguered auto dealer. It snatched up by the hungry auto buyer. Somewhere, there’s the small economic engines firing up.

The problem with clunkers is that its economic punch — which was re-infused with another $2 billion in cash by a Senate vote this past Thursday — exceeds its environmental impact.

If Congress were serious about climate change it would have adopted Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposal that qualified new vehicles be significantly better on gas mileage than those being traded in. (The program allows buyers to trade in aged vehicles that get 18 mpg or less for new cars that get at least a combined gas mileage of 22 mpg or 18 mpg for light trucks. See the website Cars.gov.)

So yes, it’s working as economic stimulus, some of the most direct and transparent stimulus we’ve seen. US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood happily announced in his blog Fast Lane, that the economic program was getting great reviews in virtually all media accounts.

As it turns out, there’s some good environmental news. The cars being ditched are gas hogs — averaging around 16 mpg according to the White House (they have to get 18 mpg or less per program guidelines). And even though they’re not required to, Americans are buying fairly high mileage replacements.

LaHood reports that the 200,000 or so cars and trucks purchased so far under Clunkers, which began in early July, average about 25 mpg and the most popular cars being selected are Hondas and Toyotas.

Said Feinstein: “What we’ve learned is that American consumers are choosing vehicles with much higher fuel efficiency than is required. To date, it has proved to be both a stimulus and a fuel efficiency program…It’s clear that consumers are trading in their old, inefficient trucks for more fuel efficient vehicles. That’s really a credit to the American people who understand that the price of gas is on the rise and that improved mileage is important. So I believe that this program is good public policy if it can drive those decisions.”

Let’s hope buyers stay smart.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media

Jan 262009

From Green Right Now reports

President Barack Obama today ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to review its previous refusal to allow California and more than a dozen other states to raise emissions standards above and beyond the national standard. The Bush administration had denied the requests.

“Instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way,” President Obama said. “The days of Washington dragging its heels are over.”

And in what he called “a down payment on a broader and sustained effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” President Obama directed the Department of Transportation to establish higher fuel efficiency standards for carmakers’ 2011 model year. The standard, known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), was established in 1975 in the wake of the Arab Oil Embargo.

Here are states that are seeking to regulate auto emission standards, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the National Resources Defense Council:

California – On July 22, 2002, former Governor Gray Davis signed AB 1493, a pioneering measure to protect California’s health and environment by reducing global warming pollution from all new cars and trucks sold in the state, America’s largest automobile market.

New Jersey – On January 14, 2004, Governor James E. McGreevey signed legislation that adopted California’s vehicle emissions standards to automobiles sold in New Jersey.

Connecticut – On May 4, 2004, Governor John G. Rowland signed the Clean Car Act, PA 04-84, requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt regulations implementing California’s vehicle emissions standards, and to keep the Connecticut regulations current with changes California makes.

Oregon – In December 2005, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) adopted temporary rules requiring Oregon to meet California’s vehicle emissions standards. On June 22, 2006, the EQC permanently adopted rules requiring all new motor vehicles sold in Oregon to meet California’s vehicle emissions standards.

Washington – On May 6, 2005, Governor Christine Gregoire signed HB 1397, adopting California’s vehicle emissions standards for Washington, conditional on Oregon’s adoption of the standard.

Rhode Island – On October 13, 2005, Governor Don Carcieri announced Rhode Island’s intention to adopt California’s vehicle emissions standards. The standards were officially adopted on December 22, 2005 with approval of Air Pollution Control Regulation no.37, Rhode Island’s Low Emission Vehicle Program.

Vermont – On November 7, 2005, the Vermont Air Pollution Control Division adopted a rule amending its low emission vehicles regulation to be identical to that of California’s vehicle emissions standards.

New York – On November 9, 2005, the New York State Environmental Board approved State regulations that require significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles by adhering to California’s vehicle emissions standards.

Maine – In December 2005, the Board of Environmental Protection adopted amendments to Chapter 127, New Motor Vehicle Emission Standards, which incorporated California’s vehicle emissions standards for new motor vehicles sold in Maine.

Massachusetts – On January 9, 2006, Secretary of Environmental Affairs, Stephen R. Pritchard announced the state’s adoption of California’s vehicle emissions standards, designed to produce cleaner air and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts. The standards take effect in Massachusetts starting with 2009 model year vehicles.

Arizona – On September 8, 2006, Governor Janet Napolitano signed Executive Order 2006-13, which directs the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to coordinate with the Arizona Department of Transportation to adopt and implement California’s vehicle emissions standards.

Pennsylvania – On September 19, 2006, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board approved the Clean Vehicles Program, a plan to meet California’s vehicle emissions standards. On November 2, 2006, the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved the implementation of the plan. Despite support from Governor Edward G. Rendell, in late 2006, the Pennsylvania General Assembly debated SB 1025, a rollback bill threatening to block the state from implementing the Clean Cars Law. On November 22, 2006, however, Pennsylvania concluded its ‘lame duck’ session without having voted on the SB 1025.

New Mexico – On December 28, 2006, Governor Bill Richardson issued executive order 2006-69, establishing goals and timetables for steps the state can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including adopting California’s vehicle emissions standards. The New Mexico Environment Department is charged with submitting a proposal to the Environmental Improvement Board no later than January 1, 2008 to implement a state clean car standard consistent with California’s. In November 2007, the Albuquerque-Bernalillio Air Quality Control Board and the Environmental Improvement Board adopted the vehicle standards

New Jersey – On January 14, 2004, Governor James E. McGreevey signed legislation that adopted California’s vehicle emissions standards to automobiles sold in New Jersey

Utah – In May 2007, Utah joined the Western Climate Initiative, a joint effort to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. Other members include Arizona, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba. By agreeing to the Initiative’s regional goal, members commit to adopt California’s GHG standards for vehicles.

Florida – On July 13, 2007, Governor Charlie Crist signed Executive Order 07-127, requiring the Florida Secretary of Environmental Protection to develop rules adopting California’s vehicle emissions standards.

Colorado – On November 7, 2007, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter released Colorado’s Climate Action Plan, under which the Governor will issue an executive order directing Colorado’s Air Quality Control Division to propose clean car standards.

Sources: Pew Center on Global Climate Change and the National Resources Defense Council