Cash for clunkers turning into boondoggle

Legislation in D.C. is as pliable as Play-Doh (and answerable to campaign dough) -- witness the clunker buyback proposal. As originally proposed, this program was designed to pull old, gas-guzzling and pollution-producing vehicles off the road in order to improve the environment. Now its has become just another car company bailout program.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the most recent proposal puttering through the House Energy and Commerce Committee would give a $4,500 voucher to anyone scrapping a truck for one that gets a mere 2 mpg better mileage. A one mile per gallon improvement would be worth $3,500. Owners of trucks in the four to five ton class that are eight or more years old would get the same $3,500 to scrap their jalopy in favor of a new truck of the same or lesser size, regardless of mileage.

Car drivers, on the other hand, are being left at the stop sign. Only cars rated at 17 mpg or less (a small proportion of those currently on the road) can be junked in return for voucher toward a new one. If you are lucky enough to own an old gas guzzler, though, you could receive $3,500 for one that gets four mpg more, or $4,500 to step up to a 10-mpg increase.

The measure is sure to disappoint environmentalists, who are already concerned that the pollution associated with producing a new car far exceeds that of keeping an already existing car on the road. Bill Chameides of TheGreenGrok calculates that if you swapped an 18 mpg vehicle for a 20 mpg one, it could take around 10 years before you'd offset the 6.7 tons of CO2 expended in making the new car.

Generously rewarding slight improvements demonstrates Washington's habitual short-sightedness. This measure is an incentive for Detroit to keep cranking out the same old trucks. Is that progress?

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