Bill Strips State Power to Reduce Engine Emissions

By J.R. Pegg

September 5, 2003 (ENS) - The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a provision Thursday that effectively bars states from regulating emissions from non-road gasoline and diesel engines under 175 horsepower. Critics say the measure undermines the ability of states to meet clean air goals and puts politics above the protection of public health.

"This is a classic case of bad government at work," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, a national clean air advocacy organization based in Washington, DC.

States are already prohibited from setting their own regulations for farm and construction equipment under 175 horsepower, but the new language expands that existing exemption in the Clean Air Act to other engines under 175 horsepower.

The provision ultimately affects all states, but it is clearly targeted at California.

California is keen to enact stricter emissions standards for gasoline and diesel engines used to power lawn and garden equipment, such as lawn mowers, generators, and weed cutters. mower

Each weekend, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns, using 800 million gallons of gas per year and producing tons of air pollutants. (Photo courtesy Don Lee Center)
California's Air Resources Board plans to require that these engines be fitted with catalytic converters beginning in 2008.

State officials say that if the plan is fully implemented it will reduce California's emissions from lawn and garden equipment by 50 percent, which would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road by 2010.

But Briggs & Stratton, the leading manufacturer of the engines, says the California mandate could cripple the economics of its business and prompt the firm to move its factories abroad.

This argument has found sympathy in the Senate, in particular from Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond - Briggs & Stratton has two plants in Missouri.

Bond heeded the company's plea and tucked the provision to block California's plan into a fiscal year 2004 appropriations bill that funds several departments and agencies.

An amendment to strip the provision from the bill was offered by California Senator Dianne Feinstein but failed by a largely partisan vote of 12 in favor and 17 against.

Two Democrats voted with 15 Republicans to kill the Feinstein amendment - South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings and Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl.

Briggs & Stratton's headquarters is located in Wisconsin.

The provision, known as a rider, will result in a significant increase in respiratory illnesses and deaths, according to California officials and environmentalists, and is likely to put the state out of compliance with its federally required clean air plan.

Such a violation could result in a freeze on transportation improvement projects worth $2.4 billion annually.

Critics say the rider will affect all states, even though California is the only state with its own authority to enact its own emissions standards.

This is because other states may choose to adopt California standards. smog

States say they need every tool available - including the ability to regulate small nonroad engines - to combat the nation's growing smog problem. (Photo courtesy U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)
The rider is so vague, according to Clean Air Trust's O'Donnell, that it also appears to preclude state actions to clean up older, dirtier engines through retrofit programs and may even preclude states from instituting voluntary retrofit programs.

"It is shocking that those who claim to support states' rights would preempt the ability of states to protect the health of our citizens," said California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat. "This anti-environmental rider will result in greater emissions of pollutants such as diesel particulate matter, which is known to cause tens of thousands of premature deaths each year."

Concern over the far reaching impact of the rider prompted the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), a national non-profit, non-partisan association of state and territorial environmental commissioners, to weigh in with opposition to the measure.

In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, ECOS Executive Director Steven Brown wrote that "the issue is less about an air matter, as it is about the rights of states to regulate the environment to protect the health and welfare of their citizens."

"ECOS firmly believes that states have the right to do so, barring a constitutional restriction," Brown wrote.

The appropriations bill containing the measure will now be considered by the full Senate.