Tougher Emission Rule For Mowers Expected To Slice Into Wallets

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Joe Hall was unequivocal about what he expects new emissions standards for lawn mowers will mean for his small lawn-care business.

"It's going to hurt me bad," Hall said yesterday while comparing prices on new lawn mowers at a Home Depot in Waldorf. "The prices are going to go through the roof. I should probably be looking for another job."

An Environmental Protection Agency regulation announced Thursday requires a 35 percent emissions reduction in new gas-powered lawn and garden equipment of less than 25 horsepower beginning in 2011. All gas-powered recreational boats must reduce emissions by 70 percent one year earlier.

The EPA said the pollution reductions will eliminate hundreds of thousands of tons of hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide, which produce smog and can lead to respiratory problems. Implementing the changes, which EPA officials say will save 190 million gallons of gas and 300 lives each year, is expected to cost $236 million.

The brunt of that price tag will fall directly on consumers, analysts and manufacturers said. Looking to buy a lawn mower in three years? Plan to pay about 18 percent more than today, the California Air Resources Board estimates. Boat buyers will probably see prices increase nearly that much, retailers and distributors said.

"There are definitely going to be some additional costs incurred and passed on," said Laura Timm, a spokeswoman for Briggs & Stratton, a Milwaukee-based manufacturer of small engines for lawn mowers and other equipment. "We're still looking at a lot of different options, so it's too early to tell specifically, but things will be more expensive."

Timm said that the changes could involve adding catalytic converters like those designed to reduce emissions from cars to smaller engines but that an engine redesign could accomplish the same goal.

Briggs & Stratton initially opposed the EPA regulations, in part because of the projected cost increase, but Timm said company leaders worked extensively with government officials and are satisfied with the wording of the announcement.

But several distributors that buy engines from such companies as Briggs & Stratton, as well as retailers and individual consumers, find the cost increases far less palatable.

Hall said he replaces each of his company's lawn mowers every few years, so an 18 percent price increase could deeply cut in his profits. He said that cutting pollution is important but that his livelihood requires him to prioritize low costs over environmental goals.

"I've already been dealing with paying $4 for gas to fill the things, and now I'm going to pay more for the machines, too," Hall said. "The problem at my level is if I raise prices, my customers will leave, so it comes out of my pocket."

Bill Holliman, store manager at Scott's Turf Equipment & Supply in Manassas, agreed that the cost increase could hit some consumers hard but does not expect his sales to decrease. People will still need their lawns mowed, he said, so they will have to buy mowers or pay a lawn-care company that has a fleet. Because older models of lawn tools will be grandfathered in under the new rules, he will continue to sell the outdated, less-expensive equipment as long as possible, he said.

"If they're a tree-hugger, they'll pay extra for the environmentally friendly one. And if they think it's all a bunch of bunk, they'll take the cheaper one," he said.

Holliman said he is skeptical of the argument that making environmentally friendly lawn mowers requires such a dramatic price increase.

"The new parts might cost 20 bucks," he said, but manufacturers "have an excuse to raise prices 50 or 60 bucks and say, 'That darn EPA made us do it.' "

In the boating business, retailers said they could be hurt more than lawn mower companies because they sell an optional leisure product. Tim Miller, service manager at Riverside Marine in Edgewater said emissions restrictions for pleasure boats have increased since 2000, which has caused major price increases. The most recent wave of EPA regulations raised motorboat prices about 15 percent, he said.

"Prices are going to go through the roof, and that will scare people off," Miller said. "We're always worried about price increases, and the state of the industry in general, because people can always just take up an activity other than boating."

But not every company is bemoaning the new EPA rules. Black and Decker, which is based in Towson, Md., and sells a variety of lawn and gardening equipment in addition to its trademark power tools, has benefited from the move toward environmentally friendly gardening because all of its lawn mowers, hedge trimmers and edgers run on electricity.

"Questions about environmental impact have certainly changed the business," said Roger Young, a spokesman for Black and Decker. "As the regulations tighten, we think there's some growth potential there."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company