Cash for Carbon: Schumer Climate Plan Would Help Consumers Buy Electric Cars

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WASHINGTON — Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, is preparing a $450 billion climate change initiative that aims to replace about a fifth of the nation’s traditional gasoline-powered vehicles with hybrid, electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars and trucks in the next 10 years.

Mr. Schumer’s proposal is far narrower than the economy-altering plans put forth by most of the Democratic presidential candidates, and it has no chance of passage in the current, Republican-led Senate.

But in an opinion article published Thursday night in The New York Times. Mr. Schumer said his proposal to push the country away from internal-combustion engines would be part of any climate-change measure that would be considered if the Democrats won the Senate next year.

“I, as majority leader, will introduce bold and far-reaching climate legislation,” he wrote. “The proposal for electric cars would be a key element of that bill.”

The senator’s clean car plan is the first specific climate policy proposal he has put forward since an interview with The Times in March, in which Mr. Schumer laid out plans for Democrats to “go on offense on climate change” in the 2020 political campaigns.

President Trump sought this week to highlight his own efforts on the climate front, talking up his moves to roll back President Barack Obama’s regulatory efforts to control carbon emissions from power plants and cars, and his signing of the international Paris Agreement on climate change: “I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided climate accord, was a total disaster for our country,” he told a crowd of cheering men and women in hard hats on Wednesday at a natural gas conference in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Trump’s potential Democratic presidential challengers have drafted ambitious climate change plans, many drawing from the Green New Deal, which calls for the elimination of all additional emissions of carbon dioxide in the United States by 2030. But the Green New Deal offers few specifics on how to achieve that target.

Mr. Schumer’s new plan is not nearly so ambitious, but it is specific and is aimed at rapidly replacing 63 million of the 270 million cars on American roads with zero-emissions or near-zero-emissions vehicles. If enacted, it would take a significant slice out of carbon dioxide pollution from automobiles, America’s largest producer of planet-warming emissions.

The plan also would open Democrats to the charge of corporate welfare, since the program would be a boon to automakers. A trade-in program would give consumers $392 billion in vouchers to exchange their traditional gasoline-powered vehicles for zero-carbon emissions vehicles, like electric cars. It includes a requirement that the new cars be assembled in the United States.

The bill would also include $45 billion to help cities and states install electric vehicle charging stations, and $17 billion to help automakers build or retool factories to manufacture hybrid, electric and hydrogen vehicles.

He offered no plan to pay for it.

“We’re focused on building support for this proposal,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer.

The program echoes the far smaller “cash for clunkers” of 2009, a $3 billion initiative that allowed consumers to trade in older, inefficient cars for new models. But that was part of a broader economic stimulus effort and came as automakers faced severe distress during the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Analysts said Mr. Schumer’s plan would most likely be effective at reducing emissions, but they were skeptical that it could win enough Republican support to pass, even with a Democratic majority.

“If this were something that Congress could pass, it could make a difference,” said Kevin Book, an analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, a nonpartisan Washington research firm. “The question is whether it could ever pass.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a conservative economist who advised the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain, said some Republicans are interested in climate policy, but, he added, “They are focusing on innovation and leapfrog technologies. And that’s not this.”

Mr. Book and Mr. Holtz-Eakin noted that the proposal seems likely to favor urban and suburban drivers, who could more easily transition to lighter, smaller electric vehicles, while leaving behind rural drivers, who might still need to haul heavy loads over long distances.

Still, Mr. Schumer’s plan has drawn support from influential manufacturing groups, including General Motors and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, who praised its “assembled-in-America” requirement.

And on Wednesday, two senators, Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, and Michael Braun, Republican of Indiana, launched the first bipartisan Senate caucus devoted to fighting climate change. The pair said they intend to keep the caucus truly bipartisan by allowing only equal numbers of members from each party. The two-member caucus said it expected its Republican numbers to grow to “four or five” in the coming weeks.

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