The current climate of hysteria surrounding the clean air movement is about to spawn one of the most silly, wasteful, and counterproductive policies visited upon the American public: The paying of inflated bounties to spur the premature scrappage of older vehicles.
Governments at all levels are yammering about the need to get rid of these old polluting vehicles. A recent federal proposal suggests a flat fee of $700.00 to be paid for pre-197l cars. The “hard cores” would like to expand the program to include pre-1980 models.
Let’s take a look at the unmentioned consequences and potential impacts of this myopic proposal.
An EPA study (of dubious validity) claims that pre-197l vehicles account for 1.7% of vehicle miles traveled, but produce between 5% and 7.5% of various pollutants. Here’s what they forgot to mention: A good percentage of these vehicles are collector cars and worth far more than $700.00. The owners would sooner move to Mexico than give them up.
Another large segment provides transportation that couldn’t be replaced for $700.00. This leaves the beaters that are on their last legs and destined for the salvage yard.
Now the government, or some benevolent industry looking for air pollution credits, jumps in and pays $700.00 for a $35.00 vehicle. The air pollution credits are applied to a new plant and the net change in air quality is zip.
This country has one longstanding, financially viable, recycling industry: Auto salvage. Unlike other recycling efforts, the auto salvage industry recycles more than raw materials. It also recaptures a portion of the “value added” components. That’s why it survives without government assistance or incentives (in fact, dis-incentives are more the rule). A piece of raw metal is worth pennies a pound. A piece of raw metal machined into an auto part is worth several dollars per pound.
Consequently, when an automobile part is salvaged and resold, not only is the raw material recycled, but so is the manufacturing, transportation, and marketing value recycled.
If we pretend the Wizard of Oz does exist, and a federal program can eliminate all pre-1980 vehicles, what happens to the auto salvage industry, the auto parts industry, or the people who have relied on older vehicles for basic transportation? What are the consequences to the richly diverse automobile collector and historic vehicle culture? What happens to the thousands of small businesses and their employees who service and accommodate the owners of older vehicles? Where do we get the billions of dollars necessary to purchase these cars?
Lower income people will not be able to purchase or service more expensive vehicles. The salvage and parts industry will lose an important segment of their market. Automobile enthusiasts and collectors will lose an irreplaceable source of parts. And, the businesses that serve the lower income motorists or the collector/hobbyist community will suffer accordingly.
And for what? To accelerate a process that on its own would accomplish the same fleet reduction of older vehicles in something like five years! The only difference is that the existing system does this in a cost-effective, non-disruptive manner for several billion less dollars. Let’s hope those people, supposedly in charge, see the folly in this boondoggle.