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Senators Promote Cash-for-Clunkers as Auto Industry Boost; Environment Takes Back Seat

This week, the Senate will likely begin debate on its version of a cash-for-clunkers bill, according to CNNMoney. This legislation began with green intentions — replacing gas-guzzlers with more efficient vehicles — but if you needed any more evidence it’s become little more than a handout to the auto industry, look no further than the statements by the bill’s sponsors.

From Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.):

After months of hard work with the Obama Administration and members of Congress, I am pleased to join with a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce legislation that will provide a much-needed boost to our auto industry during these dark economic times. This bill is a win-win for Michigan and the country. Not only will we provide incentives to bring people back into dealer showrooms, but we will remove less fuel-efficient vehicles from our roads helping to reduce pollution in our environment and preserve our way or life. Bottom line, this legislation will help stimulate new car and truck sales, saving good-paying jobs in the process.

Okay, about a third of a sentence of green amidst a paragraph of car. How about Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kans.):

The bipartisan legislation introduced today by Senator Stabenow and me will give the American economy a much-needed boost by giving money from the stimulus package directly to citizens. The legislation will also give a great boost to the struggling auto industry. It’s important to note that the bill is responsibly financed by money already allocated through the stimulus package and will not require funding through additional deficit spending.

Zilch on the environment.

Two weeks ago, I published a post titled “Dems Finally Stop Pretending Cash-for-Clunkers Is an Environmental Bill.” Shortly after it was published, I received an email from Nichole Francis Reynolds, chief of staff to Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who sponsored the cash-for-clunkers amendment to the Waxman-Markey energy and climate bill in the House. Reynolds told me in a subsequent phone conversation that Sutton and some of her Democratic colleagues objected to my headline, arguing that they had not changed their stance on cash-for-clunkers. Her point was that they had never pretended it was an environmental bill — to Sutton and others (though certainly not to environmental groups), it was an auto bill from the start, with some small environmental perks to boot (very small environmental perks, in fact, since the benefits would be undermined by the emissions created by manufacturing new cars). The calculus behind the bill, Reynolds said, had not changed at all.

Now CNNMoney tells us:

While the original cash-for-clunkers proposal had its roots in an environmental initiative to get less fuel efficient cars off the road, the Stabenow proposal would jump-start sales of new cars and trucks, including some that don’t quite meet the average fuel efficiency standards.

I suppose they can expect a call from Reynolds, too.

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