This is the latest chapter in a long-running saga:
Small engine industry still battling pollution controls
By SAM HANANEL Associated Press Writer 11 April 200611:12 pm GMT
WASHINGTON (AP) - Briggs & Stratton Corp. and its political benefactor -- Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. -- still aren't ready to accept the government's findings about pollution controls on small engines.
An Environmental Protection Agency study last month found it's safe to place catalytic converters on lawn and garden equipment to reduce air pollution. That opened the door for California to implement state rules to regulate the highly polluting small engines, and for the EPA to write nationwide rules.
But despite objections from environmentalists and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the lawn mower engine maker with two plants in Missouri is joining other industry members to fund a new study that is likely to contradict the EPA report.
And they are taking their concerns to a different government agency -- the Consumer Product Safety Commission -- that may be more receptive to the industry. Bond, who supports the industry-backed study, chairs the Senate spending panel that funds the safety commission.
It's another chapter in the long-running dispute between the lawn equipment industry and the EPA over the small engines. Regulators want to issue nationwide rules this year to limit small engine pollution, and also grant California a waiver to put its own rules in effect. Some manufacturers complain the rules will increase the risk of fires and raise production costs by 30 percent.
Bond has long opposed the tougher standards and last year insisted the EPA study whether catalytic converters could create fire risks. Environmental groups accused Bond of delaying tactics to protect 3,000 Briggs & Stratton jobs in Missouri.
Last week, members of a nonprofit safety group called the International Consortium for Fire Safety, Health and the Environment met with CPSC officials to criticize the EPA report and outline a new study on the fire risks of catalytic converters.
"We expect this to be a full and complete study, which we did not think the EPA study was," said Patricia Hanz, a spokeswoman for Briggs & Stratton in Milwaukee. "We do think the study needs to be done by an independent third party that doesn't have a vested interest in the outcome, which EPA did."
Hanz said the new study will be funded in part by the education and research foundation of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, an industry trade association.
CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese said the commission has endorsed the EPA study but remains open to considering other evidence of safety hazards.
"If any information arises that the CPSC believes is good solid data that raises concerns, CPSC will work with EPA to correct any of the problems along the way," Vallese said.
Some in the environmental community say it's no coincidence that Bond controls the safety commission's purse strings as chairman of a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
"He does control the budget for the CPSC and so is in a position to exert some pressure on them," said Frank O'Donnell, director of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
"Breathers will continue to suffer the effects of smog if Sen. Bond tries to use this study to delay the much-needed cleanup of these dirty small engines."
Bond spokesman Rob Ostrander calls such speculation nonsense.
"The CPSC is staffed by honest professionals," Ostrander said. "What an insult for some in the environmental community to suggest they can be bought off."
"The EPA study, in coordination with the CPSC, was not a public process so there was no input or comment by members of the public or stakeholder groups," Ostrander said. "Why would anyone be against more information being available?"
California officials have grown frustrated with the delays.
"We don't believe this needs to be studied additionally," said Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman.
"The EPA did a very exhaustive study and concluded that these catalytic converters can be safe, and we are hoping that the EPA moves expeditiously to allow California to move forward with its efforts to clean up the air," Gantman said.
The new study is expected to be complete later this year.