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Cash For Clunkers: What Else Can It Be Used For?

Just about everyone seems to like Cash for Clunkers, the United States government's offer to buy inefficient old cars if they're replaced with better models.

Despite criticisms that the program doesn't achieve a huge environmental benefit and ultimately pays at least $237 per ton of carbon dioxide it saves us from emitting, it has provided a chance for success for the car industry in a bad economy and also given one of the largest single-month bumps to average vehicle efficiency that the US has seen.

The program also seems to have gotten people thinking about other ways that government incentives can be used, especially to reduce energy usage. Here are a few:

  • Permanent fuel efficiency rebates -- Blogger Robert Rapier suggests that the "clunkers" portion be dropped in favor of simply encouraging high efficiency cars getting 30 miles per gallon or better. Such a measure would probably work as well as or better than the government's fleet-wide fuel efficiency mandates, but Rapier's suggestion of funding it from a new gas tax, however small, is politically unlikely in the United States.
  • Replacing old electricity generation with new plants -- Estimates already show that, under normal market conditions, renewable energy and cleaner-burning traditional energy won't replace inefficient old plants quickly enough to make much a difference in emissions for decades. T. Boone Pickens and Ted Turner suggest in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed that, among other things, we retire polluting power plants in exchange for incentives.
  • Electric vehicles -- OK, maybe this idea isn't terribly different from the existing program. On the other hand, if trades what can be very incremental improvements in miles per gallon from a Cash For Clunkers trade-in to a guaranteed drop to zero emissions driving. Former President Bill Clinton suggested offering trade-in cash to buy electric vehicles as a way to spur the fledgling EV market.
  • Old computing equipment -- While meant as a humorous jibe at information technology holdovers, this CIO article points out that aging technology is fairly ubiquitous, and much of it (like old server mainframes) is wasteful of energy.
Unlikely as it looks from here, we may see something like these programs down the road if energy usage becomes more of an issue in the United States.

Update I couldn't resist this one: A writer on NorthJersey.com proves that the entire concept has jumped the shark by suggesting a "Cash for Cluckers" program to reduce emissions from the meat industry.