- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

California’s efforts to approve strict new emission standards for lawn mowers and similar small-engine equipment are sparking a fight with Congress over potential job losses and safety issues.

The regulations, the toughest in the nation, would cut emissions of smog-forming exhaust in “small, non-road engines” such as lawn mowers, weed trimmers and chain saws. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), which approved the regulation yesterday, said the reduction eventually would be equivalent to eliminating air pollution from 275,000 autos. The regulations will not take effect immediately.

“This proposed regulation will certainly reduce air emissions,” Richard Varenchik, a spokesman for the board, said yesterday.

But the regulation also would cause job losses at U.S. operations that make the small engines and components, and would present a fire hazard to people using the lower-pollution equipment, according to critics in Congress and the private sector.

The charges have turned the California regulation into a legislative and regulatory fight in Washington.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, offered language in an appropriations bill that would block the California rule. Mr. Bond’s action followed a complaint from Briggs & Stratton, a major Milwaukee small-engine maker, that the emissions requirements would cost U.S.-based jobs.

Briggs & Stratton said it would have to retool plants if the regulation is adopted, something done cheaper overseas than in the United States. The resulting move would cost 22,000 jobs from the company and its suppliers, largely in Wisconsin, Missouri, Georgia, Kentucky and Illinois, according to one analysis.

“We want these jobs to stay right here in the United States,” said Tom Savage, a senior vice president at Briggs & Stratton.

California and other states have been allowed to mandate cleaner auto and other engines than required by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Bond amendment would strip states of authority to require cleaner engines that run under 25 horsepower.

The appropriations bill could come up for a Senate vote as soon as next week, though the fate of Mr. Bond’s amendment is not certain.

“We certainly anticipate having to defend that [amendment] on the floor,” said Ernie Blazar, a spokesman for Mr. Bond.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, California Democrat, said Briggs misled Mr. Bond — claiming job losses to the senator but saying in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the rule would not affect operations.

And Mrs. Feinstein wants the California regulation to stand.

“The proposed standards in California would help the state dramatically improve its air quality,” she said in a prepared statement.

Small, non-road engines contribute about 1 percent of California’s smog-forming exhaust, CARB said.

State regulators are operating as if they still have authority but realize that a change at EPA could eliminate their authority.

“We’re certainly concerned,” Mr. Varenchik said.

The Bond amendment also would affect local efforts to regulate emissions.

On the safety front, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and four other members of the House Government Reform Committee, which is responsible for EPA oversight, this week sent a letter to the agency saying the emissions regulations would cause a safety and fire hazard.

The new machines would use a type of catalytic converter that operates at high temperatures, which the legislators said could cause fires and other problems.

Mr. Varenchik said CARB has conducted its own studies and that the safety issue is “bogus.”

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