California Cracks Down On Small Engines

Posted on December 12, 2006

The U.S. EPA has granted California a waiver that will allow the state to require the use of catalytic aftertreatment systems on small gasoline engines used in lawn mowers and other small equipment as of Jan. 1., U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-Calif.) jointly announced. It is estimated that 7% of California’s mobile emissions come from engines under 50 hp.

“This is a giant step forward for California,” the two lawmakers said in a statement. “It paves the way for California to implement strict emission controls on lawnmowers and other small engines and to see major reductions in air pollution.”

The EPA’s action ended several years of political dispute. Republican Sen. Kit Bond, whose state of Missouri is home to two factories owned by Briggs & Stratton, the nation's largest small-engine maker, had sought to block California from instituting its regulation. He also questioned whether mowers with catalytic converters could spark fires, but an EPA study earlier this year found there was no safety problem.

Bond backed off under pressure from Feinstein, but he did succeed in preventing other states from being able to copy California's rule, something the Clean Air Act normally allows. Instead, he required EPA to write a national standard.

“The emission standards we are considering would reduce smog-forming pollutants from lawn mowers by over 40% when fully implemented,'' said Bill Wehrum, EPA acting assistant administrator for air and radiation. “EPA approved the California waiver request because new, cleaner engines can safely reduce emissions.''

The California Air Resources Board, which passed the mower emissions rule three years ago but couldn't enforce it pending the EPA waiver, welcomed the news as key in developing clean air plans. “We're really having to struggle to find enough reductions to achieve the air quality standards, so if you take away a piece that's this big, it would probably permanently handicap us,'' said Tom Cackette, the agency's deputy executive officer.