A near-miss for California’s clean-air rules

by Matt Jenkins

California’s newest clean-air law narrowly escaped an attempt to shoot it down in the U.S. Congress.

Faced with the worst air pollution in the nation, the state has led the way in enacting tough air-quality regulations. But although California has made progress in combating auto emissions, pollution from small engines like lawnmowers and weed whackers has become proportionally greater. In September, California’s Air Resources Board issued a rule that could force small-engine manufacturers to redesign their products to dramatically lower emissions.

“Something like a regular lawnmower is probably 13 times dirtier than a car,” says Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the Air Resources Board. “If it’s an old raggedy lawnmower, it could be as much as 40 cars. You’re talking about a lot of dirty air.”

But Briggs & Stratton, the largest small-engine manufacturer in the United States, finagled support in the U.S. Congress for overturning California’s new rule. The company argued that, to remain cost-competitive under the new regulation, it would have to move thousands of jobs overseas. According to the company, that would include 2,000 jobs from its two major factories in Missouri — whose senior senator, Kit Bond, R, chairs the subcommittee which funds the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Characterizing the California rule as a move “to force-feed the nation dangerous new regulations without concern for job loss or safety,” Bond tacked a rider onto a spending bill that would take authority to regulate engines under 50 horsepower away from the states and turn it over to the EPA.

A last-minute compromise allows California to regulate small engines; other states, however, must follow the EPA’s regulations, due out by the end of 2005. © High Country News