Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An update from the front: Briggs & Stratton tries a new tactic in war against pollution controls

The infamous Briggs & Stratton Corporation is apparently trying a new tactic in its long-running war against new air pollution standards for lawn mowers and other small gasoline-powered engines.

At an EPA meeting yesterday in Ann Arbor, Michigan, B&S kept a decidedly low profile – despite having at least a half dozen lawyers, other company employees and consultants in attendance. (This meeting, you may recall, was to permit a public vetting of a recent EPA report which concluded that using baby catalytic converters on lawn mowers would not create new safety concerns. http://www.epa.gov/otaq/equip-ld.htm#study )

Instead, B&S relied on its trade association, the Outdoor Equipment Power Institute, to try undermining new pollution standards. But the Institute spokesmen looked and acted a little embarrassed at the whole business -- a little like a nervous groom at the proverbial shotgun wedding.

The Institute called on EPA to postpone any new small-engine pollution standards until the industry developed “voluntary” safety guidelines.

The Institute spokesmen looked especially embarrassed because it was revealed at the meeting that the Consumer Product Safety Commission had asked the industry in 2002 to develop similar guidelines for leaky fuel tanks in existing engines – and they still haven’t done it!

Margo Oge, director of EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, asked how long it would take the industry to develop guidelines for engines equipped with tiny catalytic converters.

“We don’t know how long it will take,” responded James McNew, the Institute’s vice president for technical and marketing services.

Oge quickly replied that “we don’t believe EPA should delay our efforts” while the industry cogitates. She noted that small engines “contribute significantly” to smog problems. (One of the Institute spokesmen also urged a delay until an industry-funded front group completes its own study of safety issues. It is pretty obvious that the front-group study’s conclusions have already been written.)

Several of the Institute’s members – including Honda and Koehler – stood up at yesterday’s meeting to break ranks with the Institute and endorse, without delay, national clean-air standards for small engines similar to those adopted already by the state of California. Several other companies previously have also done this in writing.

Even so, I would not be surprised if the industry takes its lame complaints to B&S’s longtime champion, Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), as spending legislation for EPA moves in the near future from the House (slated to act on it this week) to the Senate.

There are two issues pending: the need for EPA to grant an official waiver to permit California to move ahead with its standards; and proposed national EPA standards. We hope the former will happen soon. The latter probably won’t happen before late this year.

We will be watching to see if “Senator Smog” Bond (as christened by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) tries once again to interfere on behalf of his friends at Briggs & Stratton.

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