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

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
December 2013

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
Mobility Systems
Consumer assistance to recycle and save, Consumer surplus, Criteria pollutant, Pollution damage cost, Rebate, Vehicle scrappage
Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
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.