- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

It's quite likely that thousands of readers of this article regularly drive pre-1987 cars. It's just as likely that these cars are serviced properly and have passed appropriate Virginia, Maryland and D.C. safety/emissions inspections. You probably choose to drive them because they are affordable, reasonably safe, and wish to use them until they no longer make economic sense.
What if, however, the government offered you a financial incentive to scrap your car? Would you take them up on it or would you look for the proverbial "black widow spider lurking in the woodpile?"
Sens. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, have introduced legislation that, if enacted, will establish a bureaucracy to be known as the National Motor Vehicle Efficiency Improvement Program. Its mission would be to provide grants (which are, of course, tax money from you and me) to states to offer financial incentives to some vehicle owners to scrap their vehicles. These vehicles would be passenger automobiles and light-duty trucks manufactured in model years more than 15 years before the fiscal year in which appropriations are made. Further credits would be issued to those who replace them with automobiles with higher fuel efficiency.
No matter what name the legislation uses, it's basically a "scrap bill."
Attached to the Energy Policy Act of 2002 (S1766), scheduled for debate starting Monday, is Section 803 Assistance for State Programs to Retire Fuel-Inefficient Motor Vehicles. This legislation is one small part of a broad range of programs aimed at the long-term effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. (To be sure, such ideas are noble and good, and no one would suggest that we wouldn't be better off without having to deal with the Middle East.)
The Daschle/Bingaman scrap bill requires that any vehicle turned in must be operational. Payments, according to the bill, will be made to the person turning in the vehicle and to the operator of the scrap facility. In addition to the payment to the owner of the vehicle, another credit may be redeemed by that owner at the time of purchase of a new fuel-efficient automobile. Spokesmen from Mr. Bingaman's office point out that the bill seeks to ensure that parts from turned-in cars would be recycled rather than crushed and that the program is strictly voluntary. It is not an attempt to force people to buy certain types of vehicles but one of a number of long-term "solutions" to stem our escalating use of foreign oil.
Unfortunately, the American public continues to demonstrate its lack of concern for the oil-source problem, since very few people purchase vehicles because they are fuel efficient. In fact, 50 percent of the buying public opts for light trucks (sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickups) that deliver fuel economy in the mid teens, at best. By contrast, the number of passenger car models built in the '60s, '70s and '80s that get such poor mileage could be counted on one's fingers and toes. Even 1960s muscle cars delivered mileage figures in the high teens under normal driving conditions.
That's one reason why the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (SEMA), Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) and thousands of automobile clubs throughout the country are against any form of scrap bill, including this one. Whether this legislation would actually produce benefits or not, this (or any) proposed scrap bill inherently has a number of flaws:
The average age of the passenger vehicle population is 9.1 years. With more than 126 million cars and more than 74 million light trucks in operation on our highways, the number of those more than 15 years old is staggering. How would we afford to pay for such a large-scale program? It will inevitably cost billions of dollars that could (should, in fact) be spent on health care and other pressing social problems.
Millions of people drive vehicles older than 15 years for a reason. They can't afford anything newer and therefore spend between $4,000 and $7,000 for transportation. If there are fewer good-condition, operational older vehicles for them, how are they supposed to afford more expensive vehicles? Such programs unintentionally discriminate against those who earn the least and have no voice in Washington.
Scrap programs can, over time, seriously hurt the independent repair industry. As the population of a given model is turned in for scrap, the overall supply of usable parts will decrease. Repair costs for that model increase to the point that owners would replace their quite-serviceable vehicles for new ones, eventually driving some independent repair shops out of business. The irony of the situation is that those repair-shop owners' tax dollars would be spent to put them out of business.
Such programs eventually destroy the car-collector hobby by eliminating the supply of restorable vehicles and parts. If there were no 1975-1987 cars available in junkyards, for instance, no one would be able to restore one. The collector-car hobby is a $4 billion industry, enjoyed by several million enthusiasts.
The bill doesn't ensure that scrapped vehicles are actually being replaced by more fuel-efficient vehicles. It merely encourages the choice. An owner could easily collect money for turning in a 1986 V-6 Camaro (mileage: about 28 highway) and buy a new SUV.
The program ignores cheaper, more socially responsible options such as voluntary vehicle repair and upgrade programs that increase the fuel efficiency of older vehicles.
Such programs have historically been laced with loopholes that give businesses (power plants, factories, etc.) the potential ability to purchase vehicles and turn them in for energy credits.
Bills such as this effectively require those who drive passenger cars most of which are quite fuel efficient to make up for the fiscal irresponsibility of those who drive gas-guzzling light trucks.
The bill doesn't specify the grant amounts and how they would be allocated by the states.
If any legislation that affects millions of vehicles and millions of people is enacted, it needs to be well-written, comprehensive and completely fair to everyone concerned.
Those wishing to comment or who are opposed to any such legislation can do so online at www.enjoythedrive.com/legislative/contact_legislator.asp, provided by the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketing Association) Washington office, or call 202/783-6007. You can call your senator yourself by dialing the Senate main number: 202/224-3121.

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