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Provision Threatens California Efforts to Cut Smog

A spending bill measure sponsored by a Missouri senator would kill proposed standards for small engines, such as those in lawn mowers.

September 04, 2003|Elizabeth Shogren | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A provision sponsored by a Missouri senator that is part of a massive spending bill would block California's efforts to cut pollution emitted from lawn mowers and other small machines.

Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the subcommittee that drafted the bill, included the provision after a lobbying campaign by Briggs & Stratton Corp., a leading engine manufacturer with two factories in his state.

If the provision becomes law, it would effectively kill California's proposed emissions standards for the small engines used in ride-on and push lawn mowers, generators, snow blowers and electric weed cutters, said Jerry Martin, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board.

The state estimates that cleaning up emissions from those small engines would reduce smog by a level equal to taking 1.8 million cars off the road. "If we lose this, it means dirtier air for California," Martin said.

Meeting California's proposed standards would probably require catalytic converters on lawn mowers and other yard tools.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the Appropriations Committee, is trying to come up with a strategy to strip Bond's provision from the bill, said her spokesman, Howard Gantman. Generally, senators are not allowed to remove measures from spending bills in committee, Senate staffers said. So the effort to cut the provision may have to wait until floor debate.

"In my view, California should be allowed to take the lead in setting tough air pollution standards," Feinstein said.

Environmental groups lashed out at Bond for making Californians suffer in order to benefit the interests of a single company. "This is an outrage," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of Clean Air Trust, an advocacy group. "This is nothing but a special-interest deal that will result in dirtier air for California, only to benefit special-interest polluters in the Midwest."

The Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on the spending bill today.

Bond defended his provision as necessary to save the jobs of people who work in Missouri's two Briggs & Stratton Corp. factories.

"I will use every legislative tool at my disposal to stop California bureaucrats from trying to solve their own air-quality problems at the expense of almost 2,000 workers and their families in Poplar Bluff and Rolla, Mo.," Bond said.

The cost of retooling those two factories and another in Kentucky to meet the proposed California standard would be so great that the company would be forced to shift its operations abroad, said Thomas R. Savage, a senior vice president.

Savage also said that if California were to set a tougher standard, several other states probably would follow suit and the major purchasers of Briggs & Stratton engines probably would require that all the products nationwide meet the higher standard.

"Why is it fair for California to set national standards for emissions?" Savage asked.

California's current standards are approximately on par with federal standards for these engines. The industry has cut emissions from its engines by 70% over the past several years, Savage noted.

Despite California's long record as a leader in pollution control, smog levels in Los Angeles remain among the worst in the country.

Disclosure reports show that Briggs & Stratton, which is based in Wauwatosa, Wis., paid lobbyists $180,000 last year to work on its behalf.

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