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EPA Backs Off Snowmobile Pollution Rules

Environment: Makers get two more years, until 2012, to hit emission reduction goals.


WASHINGTON — Responding to pressure from the White House and from manufacturers, the Environmental Protection Agency will give snowmobile makers more time to reduce pollution under federal regulations released Friday.

The emissions standards for snowmobiles and other primarily gasoline-burning recreational and industrial engines were released in response to a court order. They represented the first air pollution rules the Bush administration has developed and completed.

EPA officials stressed that the new standards are important because, when they are in full force, they will reduce pollution by 2 million tons a year, equivalent to taking 32 million cars, or 15% of today's traffic, off the road.

"When fully implemented, this action will not only protect public health but will help restore the view of our nation's treasured scenic parks and wilderness areas," EPA administrator Christie Whitman said.

But environmentalists blasted the administration for weakening what they considered an already lax rule proposed by the EPA a year ago.

"EPA is squandering an important and highly cost-effective opportunity to cut harmful air pollutants from these very dirty engines," said Vicki Patton, a senior attorney for Environmental Defense Fund.

Compared with the EPA's initial proposal, the final rule will give snowmobile makers two additional years, until 2012, to achieve the reduction targets. It also gives them more flexibility in how much of each pollutant they reduce.

EPA spokesman Joe Martyak said the changes were made after hearing from snowmobile makers that "it would have been difficult for them to achieve those reductions in some of their engines in that time frame."

The only other change made in the rule was to the emissions standard for all-terrain vehicles. They will be allowed to emit 50% more pollution under the final rule than they would have been under the proposal.

Environmentalists were particularly concerned about the rules for snowmobiles, which are responsible for a large percentage of the air pollution in some national parks and forests. The Bush administration already rejected a Clinton administration policy to ban them in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons national parks. The Bush administration does plan to limit the use of snowmobiles in those parks, and that policy is expected to be completed this fall.

A group that represents enthusiasts of snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles cheered the administration's new standards.

"EPA has been responsive to industries' concerns about the standards being reasonable and achievable," said Bill Dart, public lands director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national group of motorized recreational enthusiasts.

Snowmobilers praised the administration for setting emissions standards without telling the industry what kind of technology to use. The manufacturers and snowmobilers are eager to keep the popular two-stroke engines, which power most snow machines.

"We're pleased they are talking about using standards rather than dictating technologies," Dart said.

Environmentalists were appalled that such engines will be legal for many years even though cleaner-burning four-stroke engines, which require more piston strokes per fuel cycle, already are made by all four major manufacturers. They said the new regulations defy the 1990 Clean Air Act, which commanded the EPA to set standards that result in "the greatest degree of emissions reduction achievable," taking cost into consideration.

"Dirty, noisy two-strokes are the most polluting engines on the planet, so frankly, we're shocked that the Bush administration plans to allow them in new snowmobiles for at least another decade," said Russell Long, executive director of Bluewater Network, a national environmental group. California regulates some of the vehicles targeted by these new standards but has been prevented by law from regulating others. EPA officials said their new standards will be tougher than the state's rules.

State officials did not have time to analyze the new rules. But California air-quality officials were pleased that the EPA had produced the standards, which were ordered by Congress 12 years ago.

"We have been urging the federal government to set emissions [standards] for what we cannot control," said Jerry Martin, spokesman of the California Air Resources Board.

The EPA engaged in an extensive cost-benefit analysis after its initial proposal was criticized by John Graham, the White House Office of Management and Budget's chief regulatory official. He took aim at the proposal for failing to measure the benefits of the engines now available.

"A mediocre proposal has been made even weaker by John Graham's influence," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, a bipartisan group that fights to reduce air pollution. "Unfortunately, it may send a chilling signal to the staff at EPA for future rules."

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