Emissions Standards Tightened

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 5, 2008

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday tightened emissions standards for new gasoline-powered lawn mowers, weed trimmers and boat engines, reducing the amount of smog-causing pollution these motors will be allowed to emit.

In adopting long-delayed rules that will require small gas engines to have catalytic converters like those that have been installed in cars since 1975, the Bush administration overruled the initial objections of both engine manufacturers and their GOP allies in Congress, who argued that installing the devices in small engines could pose a fire threat.

"EPA's new small engine standards will allow Americans to cut air pollution as well as grass," EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said in a statement. "These standards help fight smog in our neighborhoods and waterways as we continue to improve the environmental landscape."

The new regulations will take effect in 2010 and 2011. Once fully implemented, they will annually eliminate emissions totaling 600,000 tons of hydrocarbons, 130,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 1.5 million tons of carbon monoxide. Both hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog, which is linked to respiratory illnesses as well as premature deaths.

Ground-level ozone also contributes to global warming, ranking as the third-biggest greenhouse gas generated by human activity, behind carbon dioxide and methane.

The EPA -- which concluded that it is "safe and feasible" to install catalytic converters in small engines -- estimates the rule's public health benefits will outweigh its costs by a ratio of at least 8 to 1, producing public health benefits valued at between $1.6 billion and $4.4 billion annually by 2030. The reduced emissions are estimated to prevent more than 300 premature deaths, 1,700 hospitalizations and 23,000 lost workdays each year.

Environmentalists, who noted that one riding lawn mower emits as much pollution in an hour as 34 cars, said the move would protect the environment and promote energy efficiency. Because spark-ignition engines release as much as 25 percent of their gas unburned in their exhaust, the EPA also estimates that the regulations, when fully implemented, will lead to a more efficient combustion process that will save about 190 million gallons of gasoline each year.

"Cleaner lawn mowers means less summertime smog and healthier air for millions of kids," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund. "These new clean-air standards will reduce dangerous smog pollution from high-emitting gasoline engines while helping to cut costs at the gas pump."

The regulations, which were originally scheduled to come out by the end of 2005, apply to lawn and garden equipment of 25 horsepower or less, as well as to golf carts and all gas-powered personal watercraft and inboard and outboard boat engines.

Several small-engine manufacturers, including Wisconsin-based Briggs & Stratton, originally opposed the stricter emissions standards, and when California enacted similar restrictions a few years ago, Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) inserted language into a federal spending bill prohibiting other states from adopting the California rules, which took effect last year.

Now, however, these manufacturers say they have worked with the EPA and can meet the new targets.

"Although challenging, we believe the new exhaust standards to be fair and achievable," said Kris Kiser, a spokesman for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a trade association.

Frank O'Donnell, who directs the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the only downside to the federal regulations is that the administration did not unveil them sooner: "This is one of the rare instances in which we're saying, 'Hey, the Bush administration is doing something really positive for the environment, just a little late.' "

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