Buy a lawn mower or gasoline-powered weed whacker in California this spring and you’ll be contributing to the war on smog, not to mention reducing greenhouse gases that help cause global warming.
That’s because after a five-year fight against the world’s largest maker of small gasoline engines, California at last has triumphed. New 2007 model push-around lawn mowers produce about 40 percent fewer exhaust emissions than earlier models, plus an additional 90 percent reduction in evaporative emissions from lawn mower fuel tanks and hoses.
That’s primarily the result of the state Air Resources Board sticking to its guns, with the strong backing of Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
This fight began in 2001, when the state anti-smog agency issued new rules calling for large-scale cutbacks in emissions from lawn mowers and other small engines.
Immediately, Wisconsin-based Briggs & Stratton protested in tones roughly comparable to the futile and misleading bleats automakers emit every time emission rules are tightened on them. (Carmakers right now are suing to invalidate California’s pioneering greenhouse gas standards for cars and light trucks, set to become effective in three years.)
The California lawn mower rule would cost 22,000 jobs in 23 states, Briggs & Stratton whined. The company claimed the state losing the most jobs would be Missouri, where the engine maker operates large plants in Rolla and Poplar Bluff.
Republican Sen. Christopher (Kit) Bond of Missouri instantly picked up on a corporate press release containing this claim, bombastically repeating it on the Senate floor. He never noted that all numbers he recited were based on a rules proposal the ARB had dropped a year earlier, not the rules it actually adopted. Nor did he mention that the ARB found Briggs & Stratton deliberately exaggerated the cost of technical changes it would need to make.
Then Feinstein noticed that the Briggs & Stratton claims directly contradicted one of the company’s own filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. “While Briggs & Stratton believes the cost of the proposed regulation on a per engine basis is significant, [it] does not believe the proposal will have a material effect on its financial condition or results of operations…” that filing said.
The upshot was that an amendment by Bond seeking to overrule the California smog fighters was shot down, and late last year the new state rules finally won all federal approvals needed before they could take effect.
Now, as also happens after every automaker protest, all is well again in lawn mower land. “The outdoor power equipment industry is committed to manufacturing products that are both safe and environmentally friendly,” said Bill Harley, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, to which Briggs & Stratton belongs. “The products made today are cleaner, quieter and more efficient than ever before.”
If this is true, it is largely because the California smog fighters and Feinstein stuck to their guns. For if Briggs & Stratton and its pet senator had had their way, there would have been no reason at all for this industry to clean up its machines.
Precisely the same situation prevails in automobiles, where hybrid cars have now become such a major profit center that Toyota, for one, plans by 2010 to offer all its models in gas-saving, almost emission-free hybrid versions. There would be no hybrids at all if it weren’t for California’s toughest-in-the-nation rules.
Just as the California market is so large it can force automakers to build cleaner cars every time this state demands an improvement, California’s efforts will now bring cleaner lawn mowers to the entire world.
That reality is revealed in an Outdoor Power Equipment Institute request that the federal Environmental Protection Agency – which just approved the California standards – now issue uniform national emissions rules. The only way this can happen is for the EPA to imitate California’s standards.
“Homogeneous regulations will permit the industry to manufacture, test, certify and distribute one product for all 50 states,” said Harley.
In short, if you can’t beat California, join it.
Which goes to show once again why it pays major environmental dividends all over America and the world whenever California refuses to bend its anti-smog rules.
It also shows that companies like Briggs & Stratton wasted valuable time and money fighting the California rules, a lesson it would also behoove the ever-recalcitrant carmakers to learn at long last.