Debate Over Small Engine Emissions Regulation Rolls On

By J.R. Pegg

September 18, 2003 (ENS) - The controversy over an appropriations rider that could bar states from regulating emissions from non road gasoline and diesel engines under 175 horsepower took another turn Wednesday, as environmentalists and a California Senator accused engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton of misleading either Congress or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) about why such the company needs such a provision.

The measure will affect all states, but it is targeted at California, which is keen to enact stricter emissions standards for gasoline and diesel engines under 25 horsepower that are used to power lawn and garden equipment, such as lawn mowers, generators, and weed cutters.

Last week Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond - after intense lobbying by Briggs & Stratton - 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. Bond

Missouri Republican Senator Kit Bond tagged a rider onto an appropriations bill to block California's regulation of emissions from lawn and garden equipment. (Photo courtesy Senator Bond's Office)
At issue is California's plan to require that these engines be fitted with catalytic converters beginning in 2008 - state officials say such a move 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.

California officials and environmentalists add that blocking the plan will result in a significant increase in respiratory illnesses and deaths, 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 within California worth $2.4 billion annually.

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

The firm has released analysis by an international economic research firm that shows 22,000 jobs in 24 states would be at risk from California's proposal.

"California is attempting to impose unreasonable standards that force us to consider moving operations overseas, and this would have a tremendous impact not only on our workers but on our suppliers and customers, " said Thomas Savage, Briggs & Stratton senior vice president for administration.

But a review of the firm's most recent SEC 10-k form, which was filed with the commission on September 11, 2003, appears to paint a different picture.

In its SEC filing, Briggs & Stratton stated that it "does not believe" the California standards "will have a material effect on its financial condition or results of operations, given that California represents a relatively small percentage of Briggs & Stratton engine sales and that increased costs will be passed on to California consumers." 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)
The company either "made a false representation to the SEC, or it duped United States Senators," according to Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust.

Briggs & Stratton is either lying to Congress in order to halt clean air requirements, O'Donnell said, "or it is already planning to move jobs overseas, and preparing to use clean air as a scapegoat."

California Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat, has asked the SEC to look into the matter.

The issue is about more than California - a point both Briggs & Stratton and its critics are keen to make.

Critics say the appropriations rider undermines the ability of states to meet clean air goals.

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.

Although California is the only state with its own authority to enact its own emissions standards, other states may choose to adopt the California standards.

Briggs & Stratton says the engines it manufactures currently account for only about two percent of nationwide emissions of smog forming pollutants - and less than one percent of California's emissions.

Savage adds that the company is willing to working with regulators to bring this down even further and said Briggs & Stratton is "committed to making its products cleaner."

"We are asking members of Congress, especially from America's heartland, to support responsible legislation that would promote a uniform national emissions standard set by the EPA," Savage said. "A patchwork of state laws would make large scale engine manufacturing nearly impossible."

Briggs & Stratton spent some $180,000 in 2002 to lobby against the clean air requirements - figures for 2003 have not yet been released.

"It is not a question of environmental protection, it is about one state agency overstepping the bounds of reasonable regulation to the detriment of the entire country," Savage said.

But California - and other states - are keen to use every available tool to clean the air. The appropriations rider is so vague, adds O'Donnell, that it also appears to preclude state actions to clean up bigger, older, dirtier engines through retrofit programs and may even preclude states from instituting voluntary retrofit programs. 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)
And concern over the far reaching impact of the appropriations 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.

Last week California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, introduced an amendment to strip the provision from the bill, but it 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 appropriations bill containing the measure will be considered by the full Senate as early as next week.