An Assessment of Two Environmental and Economic Benefits of ‘Cash for Clunkers’

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This research aims to provide a more comprehensive, life cycle accounting of two categories of environmental and economic benefits associated with the $3 billion US “Cash for Clunkers” vehicle scrappage program. First, using a life cycle emissions methodology developed in Lenski et al. (2010), we find that about 29,000 metric tons of criteria pollutant emissions were avoided, for a benefit of about $23 million; avoided carbon dioxide emissions, by comparison, provided a benefit worth $90 million. Second, we compare the market value of scrapped vehicles to the rebates provided, calculating the consumer surplus or “gift” to participants to be up to $2 billion (about $2000 to $3000 per vehicle). This is significantly more than offered in previous vehicle scrappage programs, and suggests opportunities to get more environmental and economic “bang for the buck.” Finally, these two categories of benefits are found to be heavily concentrated geographically around urban centers. About 2% of US counties (50 counties) received 50% and 30% of the aggregate benefits from avoided criteria pollutant emissions and consumer surplus from the rebates, respectively.

Research Areas: 
Consumer assistance to recycle and save
Vehicle scrappage
Criteria pollutant
Pollution damage cost
Consumer surplus
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Ecological Economics
Date Published: 
December 2013
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Full Citation: 
Lenski, Shoshannah, Gregory A. Keoleian and Michael R. Moore. (2013) “An assessment of two environmental and economic benefits of ‘Cash for Clunkers’” Ecological Economics. 96: 173-180.
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