Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Kit Bond attacks air standards, fronts for lawn-mower company

A real dirty development in DC, as Senator Kit Bond of Missouri has inserted into an EPA spending bill an amendment that would block the agency's effort to clean up dirty lawn mowers and other small engines.

Before EPA could move forward, it would have to follow a study outlined by a mysterious front group located in Sweden and represented in DC by a lobbying firm that once represented the tobacco industry. No, sadly, this is not a joke. Below is a story in today's Greenwire, which broke the news. More developments coming...

Greenwire 6/7/05:

SPOTLIGHT STORY:
AIR POLLUTION: Legislation orders EPA study on small engines' fire risks

The U.S. EPA would be required to study the potential fire hazards from small gasoline engines used in lawn care before it can issue regulations to lower their emissions, under the EPA annual spending bill approved this morning by a Senate subcommittee. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the panel, said the rider would ensure that new catalytic convertors installed on new lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums, marine vessels and small forklifts do not create safety risks. The rider is the only one Burns said he agreed to include in this year's spending bill. Go to Spotlight Story.

The U.S. EPA would be required to study the potential fire hazards from small gasoline engines used in lawn care before it can issue regulations to lower their emissions, under the EPA annual spending bill approved this morning by a Senate subcommittee.

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), chairman of the panel, said the rider would ensure that new catalytic convertors installed on new lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, leaf vacuums, marine vessels and small forklifts do not create safety risks. The rider is the only one Burns said he agreed to include in this year's spending bill.

Speaking with reporters after the markup, Burns said Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) is responsible for trying to place the provision in the EPA spending bill. A spokesman for Bond, author of a provision inserted in EPA's budget two years ago that also addressed this issue, could not be reached for comment.

Bond's efforts during debate on the massive fiscal year 2004 omnibus appropriations bill were originally designed to strip California of its ability to set its own state standards for spark-ignition engines 25 horsepower and smaller, even if it went beyond what the federal government allowed.

California's rule, established by the state's Air Resources Board, would harm the U.S. economy by forcing Briggs & Stratton Corp., the nation's largest small engine maker for outdoor power equipment, to move much of its production overseas, Bond argued. Bond, whose state is home to some Briggs & Stratton facilities, also said the California rule would raise safety concerns because the new engines would be more prone to causing small fires.

During the November 2003 debate, Bond faced opposition from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). Also, House Republican and Democratic leaders showed no interest in accepting Bond's proposal in its entirety, leading the senior Missouri senator to enter into bipartisan negotiations with Feinstein.

Bond and Feinstein ultimately reached an agreement that allowed the state rule to stay in place only for California, while other states were stripped of their right under federal law to adopt the California standard. In exchange, the rest of the country was told to wait for new federal emission standards from EPA.

The law set the end of 2004 as a deadline for EPA to issue a proposal, with a final rule due by the end of 2005.

EPA has missed its Dec. 1, 2004, deadline to propose the rule, and agency officials earlier this year cited "technical details" as their explanation. In an EPA regulatory agenda published last month in the Federal Register, the agency said it was now on track to issue a proposed small engine rule by January 2006 and a final standard by next May.

Opposition to the engine language is likely to emerge on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks, and its status in a final bill remains uncertain as the House's version of the EPA budget does not include the same provision.

State officials outside California have in recent weeks complained that EPA's tardiness in releasing a rule reflects badly on the 2003 deal. "This is exactly why states need this tool in their toolbox," Bill Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators, said in an interview last month.

Frank O'Donnell, director of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said today that the new language included in the Senate appropriations bill will delay EPA's ability to issue a new standard. "This is an outrageous assault on EPA's ability to protect the public from a major source of pollution," he said. "Sen. Bond is breaking his own word of two years ago solely to protect one special interest company."

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