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Senators Introduce Much Stronger Cash-for-Clunkers Proposal

Just as the House Energy and Commerce Committee was passing a not-very-green cash-for-clunkers amendment to the Waxman-Markey bill, three senators introduced a rival proposal with much stronger environmental standards.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) co-sponsored a measure today that would modestly increase the “clunker” requirement of the program and significantly raise the fuel-efficiency mandates.

The House measure would give a $3,500 voucher to a driver who trades in a car that gets 18 miles per gallon or less for one that gets at least 4 mpg more. The Senate proposal, on the other hand, sets the upper limit for the clunker at 17 mpg and requires that the new vehicle get at least 24 mpg. It would set a sliding scale, whereby a trade-in that achieves a 7-mpg improvement would earn a driver $2,500, while a 10-mpg gain would yield $3,500 and a 13-mpg increase would garner $4,500.

And while drivers could receive a voucher for a 1-mpg improvement in their trucks under the House plan, the minimum under the Senate proposal is 3 mpg.

“The ‘Cash for Clunkers’ proposal that I’m putting forward with Senators Collins and Schumer would place a greater emphasis on fuel economy improvements than the House compromise — which could allow for the scrapping of perfectly adequate vehicles in return for federal incentives to purchase gas-guzzling vehicles,” Feinstein wrote in a press release. “That’s unacceptable. Our proposal, on the other hand, would achieve between 32 to 38 percent greater oil savings, save drivers 176 gallons of gasoline per year, and cut greater greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent more than the House compromise. In short, this would accomplish the dual goals of stimulating car sales and requiring more efficient vehicles. We believe this is a much better deal for American taxpayers.”

Ordinarily, I’d say that such an ambitious proposal would have little chance of passing, but with bipartisan sponsorship, it could actually shift the debate. The differences between the House and Senate measures will likely be reconciled in conference — that is, if the Senate is able to pass its version of the Waxman-Markey bill several months down the road. And as anyone who’s kept an eye on Washington recently can tell you, that’s a big if.

*TWI is on Twitter. Please follow us here. *

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