Kit Bond goes into battle on lawn mower

Environmental groups are keeping a nervous eye on Sen. Kit Bond this week, worried that the Missouri Republican may again try to delay new emissions standards for lawn mowers and other small-engine equipment.

While most attention in the clean-air battles gets put on automobiles or power plants, small engines can be a significant source of smog pollution — as much as 10 percent of total levels in the summer. The prospects of new small-engine limits, first proposed by a California air-quality board, has been an on-again, off-again fight in Congress for the past several years.

It has led to the hiring of several lobbying firms by the industry’s main small-engine manufacturer, Briggs & Stratton, which raised both safety and jobs concerns with the new rules. Environmentalists view small engines, particularly those used in lawn mowers, as a prime target for new cleanup efforts.

“Small engines are a substantial part of the pollution problem,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Environmental groups heralded California’s move three years ago to adopt new pollution standards for small engines. The standards could require use of catalytic converters, which have cleaned up cars and trucks, to be added to lawn mowers as well.

Fearing the effect that move would have on Briggs & Stratton, a major employer in Missouri, Bond sought to prevent other states from adopting California’s new standards.

Briggs has argued that use of converters would raise fire risks. It also worried that a patchwork of states might follow California’s lead, complicating production and distribution to such a point it may have to move jobs overseas to make up for the added costs.

Bond and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) reached a compromise that allowed California to go forward with its rule and directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop national standards.

In that bill, Bond directed the EPA to examine whether the use of converters would raise fire risks.

The EPA’s report, released in March, found no added fire risk. The industry has challenged those results and is completing another study on its own. The main trade group, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, said the EPA study failed to take real-world factors into account.

The new rules “should provide adequate lead time to allow small and large equipment manufacturers to build and test … catalyzed equipment (operating under all the expected operating conditions) to ensure there are no increased hazards,” OPEI President and CEO William Harley wrote EPA last month.

State air officials, however, are urging the agency to move quickly to adopt California-like standards.

“The rulemaking has the potential to provide very significant reductions and would have major implications for our states and our respective attainment strategies,” air-quality officials from 20 states wrote the EPA this spring.

Whether Bond tries to block new EPA standards should be settled this week.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Bond is a member, is scheduled to mark up the interior spending bill, which includes funding for the EPA, on Thursday.

Bond’s office declined to comment.

Also, the EPA is holding a hearing Thursday on whether it will allow California to implement its new small-engine standards, which are set to go into effect starting next year.