New Air Pollution Rules Target Off Road Vehicles

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2002 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued new emission standards for the engines of off road vehicles including snowmobiles, motorcycles, all terrain vehicles and recreational diesel powered boats. Environmental groups say the new standards fail to protect human health and the environment, and fail to meet clean technology requirements established by the federal Clean Air Act.

The EPA says the new standards represent the first time that the agency has mandated pollution reductions from this type of non-road engines. When fully implemented in 2012, the standards are expected to prevent the release of more than two million tons of air pollution each year - the equivalent of removing the pollution from more than 32 million cars every year.


Snowmobiles are blamed for choking air pollution in popular winter areas of Yellowstone National Park. (Photo courtesy Yellowstone National Park)
"If left unregulated, pollution from these sources will continue to increase," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "When fully implemented, this action will not only protect public health, but will help restore the view of our nation's treasured scenic parks and wilderness areas."

But critics in the environmental community say the EPA missed an opportunity to slash emissions from certain off road vehicles, particularly snowmobiles and dirt bikes. For example, the new EPA regulations require snowmobile manufacturers to reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions from current levels by 30 percent in 2006, and 50 percent in 2012.

Yet using today's technology, manufacturers can - and in many cases, already are - produce engines that far exceed that requirement. While most snowmobiles are still made with more polluting two stroke engines, every major manufacturer will be selling at least one cleaner, four stroke engine model in 2003, most of which will exceed the EPA's requirements.

One manufacturer, Bombardier, said that a four stroke snowmobile it unveiled during the 2002 Winter Olympics reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 80 percent when compared to current two stroke models. And a modified two stroke engine developed by students at Colorado State University reduces hydrocarbons by 88 percent and carbon monoxide by 99 percent by uses a filter similar to a catalytic converter.

"Dirty, noisy two stokes are the most polluting engines on the planet, so frankly, we're shocked that the Bush administration plans to allow them in new snowmobiles for at least another decade," said Russell Long, executive director of the conservation coalition Bluewater Network.


Recreational watercraft engines must meet stricter emissions limits by 2006. (Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
The EPA regulations have no affect on existing engines, and will apply only to new engines produced in 2004 and beyond. The emissions reductions mandated by the rule, and the deadlines for meeting the new requirements, vary by engine type.

For large industrial spark ignition engines, such as those used in forklifts, airport baggage transport vehicles and electric generators, the EPA is adopting standards set by California in 1998. These standards will be effective nationwide in 2004, with stricter requirements effective after 2007, and are aimed mostly at reducing emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), a major component of ground level ozone or smog.

For recreational marine diesel engines, used in yachts and other pleasure craft, manufacturers will have to meet standards similar to those issued by the EPA for commercial marine diesel engines. The standards depend on the size of the engines, but beginning in 2006, emissions controls will be phased in to help reduce ozone and particulate matter pollution.

Manufacturers of off road motorcycles and all terrain vehicles will be given new incentives to switch from two stroke engines to cleaner four stroke engines, beginning in 2006. At least 50 percent of a manufacturer's fleet will have to meet reduced emissions levels for hydrocarbons (HC), NOx and carbon monoxide (CO) in 2006, and 100 percent of the fleet must meet the standards in 2007 and beyond.

The EPA's new snowmobile standard is designed to reduce HC and CO emissions by 30 percent in 2006, when 50 percent of manufacturer's fleets must meet stricter emissions standards. In 2007, 100 percent of fleets must meet the new standard, which will be reduced further for HC in 2010, and even further for both HC and CO in 2012.

Snowmobiles now emit more than 220,000 tons of HC and 580,000 tons of CO each year across the nation, the EPA said. Combined, all the off road engines covered by the new regulations produce about 4.9 million tons of CO, almost one million tons of HC, 340,000 tons of NOx, and eight thousand tons of particulate matter every year.

The agency says its new standards will help the nation avoid about 1,000 premature deaths each year, prevent 1,000 hospital emissions, reduce 23,400 cases of asthma attacks and prevent 200,000 days of lost work.

The EPA projects that the new standards for all vehicles, when fully implemented in 2020, will cut annual HC emissions by 72 percent, reduce NOx emissions by 80 percent, and cut CO emissions by 1.3 million tons, about a 56 percent reduction.


Off road motorcycles will need to have cleaner engines starting in 2006. (Photo by Mike Linenberger, courtesy National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
The new rules will also increase the fuel efficiency of many non-road engines, particularly as manufacturers transition recreational engines to four stroke versions, helping to save more than 800 million gallons of fuel a year, for an economic savings of about $500 million annually.

Those savings will help balance the expected costs to manufacturers, which the EPA estimates to range from $50 to $900 per snowmobile, less than $100 on average for an ATV, less than $200 on average for off highway motorcycles, and about $600 for each recreational marine diesel or Large SI engine.

Environmental groups argue that the new standards fall short of the requirements of the Clean Air Act, which instructs the EPA to issue emission standards that will produce "the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable through the application of technology which the Administrator determines will be available."

Earlier this year, 48 conservation, public health and clean air organizations submitted recommendations to the EPA that they argued would better protect public health then the EPA's proposal, while also slashing air and noise pollution. For example, the groups urged EPA to use a mandatory, permanent labeling system modeled on California's successful program for personal watercraft, which the industry is now beginning to use nationwide.

This program uses a combination of stars to distinguish between personal watercraft with "low," "very low," and "ultra low" emissions. But the EPA and the off road vehicle industry have opposed permanent, multi-tiered labels, and the EPA's final rule will not require this labeling system.

baggage car

Industrial engines like those used in airport baggage vehicles must meet California's strict emissions standards by 2004. (Photo courtesy Clean Airport Partnership, Inc./National Renewable Energy Laboratory)
"With permanent, multi-tiered labels, consumers can make informed choices between machines and force the industry to produce cleaner products with their pocketbooks," explained Scott Kovarovics, director of the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition. "The administration has missed an opportunity to harness market forces to encourage greater pollution reductions from all off road vehicles."

Bluewater Network's Russell Long said his group is considering a lawsuit over standards that they consider "woefully inadequate," particularly as far as snowmobiles are concerned.

"Two stroke engines dump a third of their fuel, unburned, into the environment, but four stroke engines with catalytic converters would have reduced emissions by 98 percent - far beyond what is being proposed. Therefore, snowmobiles are going to continue to endanger riders with cancer causing exhaust while increasing smog in pristine settings like Yellowstone National Park," said Long. "We're headed for the courtroom."

The EPA's final rule on off road vehicle emissions is available at: