The Washington Times
FORUM: Clean air
October 29, 2006
Author Michael Fumento in his Oct. 25 article in the Commentary pages, "Power mower power grab," took a 9-year-old quote of mine completely out of context to argue against the idea that new gasoline-powered lawn mowers should pollute less. Before we examine the facts about lawn mowers, let's rewind the clock just a bit and clear up that distorted quote.
In 1997, industry groups and industry-funded think tanks made some outrageous claims as they tried to sideline a plan by the Clinton administration to set tougher national health standards for smog and soot.
The National Association of Manufacturers, for example, asserted better standards would mean "forced carpooling" and that "the lifestyle of millions of Americans would be severely impeded." Associated Press noted that the industry-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy "began airing aggressive television and radio ads hammering home another lobbying theme: that new air standards would curtail the lifestyles of Americans with bans on outdoor barbecues, lawnmowers and fireworks, and set limits on the plowing of farm fields." [emphasis added]
At the time, I referred to these claims as "crazed propaganda," and I was right. Last time I looked, we were still barbequing, enjoying fireworks and mowing our lawns. And the air is gradually getting cleaner -- thanks to those 1997 standards, which provided the impetus for cleaner gasoline, diesel fuel, cars, SUVs, trucks and electric power plants.
But we still need to make improvements to guarantee we all can breathe clean air and enjoy better health. The Washington Council of Governments recently noted, for example, that from 2003 to 2006, the region has had 63 days in which the ground-level ozone, or smog, was high enough for Code Orange, Code Red or Code Purple warnings.
And just last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's independent science advisers unanimously concluded smog causes even bigger health problems at lower levels than we knew a decade ago. The 1997 standards need to be "substantially reduced to protect human health" from such problems as asthma attacks, "emergency room visits, hospital admissions and mortality," the scientists argued.
This is where lower-polluting lawn mowers could help. Earlier this year, the environmental secretaries of the District of Columbia and 19 states (including Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware) wrote to the U.S. EPA and urged the agency to set better clean-air standards for new lawn mowers and other small engines.
"This rulemaking has the potential to provide very significant reductions [in pollution] and would have major implications for our states and our respective [clean-air achievement] strategies," they noted. State authorities have estimated small engines can produce up to 10 percent of the smog-forming volatile organic compounds on a typical summer day. And, as cars and trucks get cleaner, lawn mowers become a bigger and bigger part of the problem.
California environmental officials have demonstrated cleaning up lawn mowers is a simple matter. The answer is a tiny catalytic converter, about the size of an egg, which can easily filter out a third or more of the pollutants without any noticeable impact on mower performance. A number of engine companies -- including Honda, Kohler, Kawasaki and Tecumseh -- have reported cleaner-burning lawn mowers will perform safely and effectively. The Consumer Product Safety Commission agrees.
California plans to have new statewide standards in place starting next year, assuming the U.S. gives it permission. As it has done successfully with lower-polluting cars and trucks, California could blaze the trail for better national small engine standards.
We at Clean Air Watch join our colleagues at the American Lung Association and other public health groups in urging the EPA to move expeditiously to approve California's request, and to set new national standards for lawn mowers and other small engines.
We'll all breathe easier if the EPA does this.