Bush's Clunkers for Cash: Plan for Pollution Control If Firms Buy and Junk Old Cars, They Get Credit for Cutting Emissions
Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE Bush administration affectionately calls it "cash for clunkers."
As government initiatives go, it is no show-stopper - or economy jump-starter.
But some new federal rules to lure high-polluting old cars off the roads represent a nearly perfect model of how the Bush White House would like government to operate.
The idea is to use market incentives to make it cheaper and easier for polluting businesses to meet clean-air standards.
A business that faces expensive investments to clean up its emissions could instead buy up old cars that put out a similar amount of the same pollutants and scrap them.
The business would be credited with the reduction in pollution, so that it could avoid or perhaps delay more expensive steps.
The appeal of this approach is that, at least in theory, it cleans the air as much as existing regulations, it does it in a cheaper and more efficient way that is less onerous to business, it may often accomplish it sooner, and it costs government no extra money.
The Bush administration has already endorsed using market mechanisms to fight acid rain. Under the 1990 Clean Air Act, utility plants in the same air basin can trade credits for reducing sulfure dioxide emissions.
In smoggy Los Angeles, local officials are making far bolder moves into tapping market efficiencies to cut pollutants affordably.
But the cash-for-clunkers notion takes the market approach into new territory - trading between stationary sources (oil refineries, bakeries) and mobile sources (cars).
"It's critical that we do this," says Joe Goffman, senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, because in cities like Los Angeles, stationary pollution sources have already made the cheap, easy cleanups. Now the ones needed are more difficult.
The program will apply to older cars, which emit the most pollution. …