TIMES crunches the numbers and comes up with some encouraging data…

The initial data released by Department of Transportation, however, shows that so far cash for clunkers has been a green success. The clunkers averaged 15.8 m.p.g., compared with 25.4 m.p.g. for the new vehicles purchased, for an average fuel-economy increase of 61%.

On the whole, American drivers are trading in inefficient trucks and SUVs for much more efficient passenger cars. Car manufacturers like Nissan are already retooling some models to improve their fuel economy so they can qualify for the credits.

But they rightly points out the potential pitfall in this situation…

It’s called the efficiency paradox: as we get more efficient at using energy — through less wasteful cars and appliances — the overall cost of energy goes down, but we respond by using more of it. In the case of cars, that means driving more. Ultimately our gas bill stays the same, but we spend more time on the road and pump the same amount of greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. The earth isn’t any better off.

This is one reason why it makes sense to have gas at a fixed cost that doesn’t go below that. Car makers have long be clamoring for this because without it the CAFE standards that the government sets don’t push people to buy the more fuel efficient cars if gas is cheap.

Is raising the fuel prices to a set level next on the Dems’ agenda? If not, should it be?

Cars What’s The Environmental Impact Of Cash For Clunkers?