And Now Global Warming

EPA finds a new reason for regulating emissions.

Just when off-highway equipment manufacturers think they've got their regulatory bases covered, another emissions issue erupts, threatening to blanket them with even more regulations and costs.

Even as the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases its Phase 3 regulations for lawn and garden equipment, the agency has issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) announcing its intention to clamp down on greenhouse gases.

While the ANPR is just the first step of what will be a multi-year regulatory process, it is setting the stage for a fundamental change in emission regulations. Until now, EPA has limited itself to protecting the health of humans by minimizing specific risks from asthma, cancer, emphysema and other diseases within the United States.

Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, pose no specific threat to personal health and there is still considerable controversy about their exact contribution to global warming. As a result, regulators will be charting new ground as they attempt to do the cost-benefit analyses that are required under federal law. One question they will have to grapple with: Exactly what is the magic temperature that will optimize the health of both people and the planet?

Equally important, global warming is an international issue. Clamping down on emissions in the United States won't do much good unless the rest of the world is equally committed. It is generally agreed that one of the major flaws in the Kyoto Treaty was its exclusion of China, the fastest-growing source of all types of air pollution.

Damaging America's competitiveness?

Concerned that regulating greenhouse gases could seriously damage America's competitiveness without achieving significant gains globally, the secretaries of four federal agencies — the departments of energy, agriculture, commerce and transportation — are challenging EPA's proposal to move ahead with proposed rules.

In a letter to the EPA administrator, the secretaries wrote: "Applying Clean Air Act regulations to U.S. businesses in order to address global climate change — outside of any international framework that brings together all of the world's major economies, both developed and developing — would simply export economic activity and emissions to less-regulated countries and might not generate any net reduction in (greenhouse gas) emissions."

Targeting off-highway equipment

Based on documents it filed as part of its ANPR, EPA appears very concerned about emissions from off-highway equipment. According to EPA, greenhouse gas emissions from farm and construction equipment have increased 50% faster than similar emissions from on-highway vehicles. Within the off-highway segment, construction and mining equipment generate one-third of the total output, followed by agricultural equipment (20%), industrial equipment (14%) and lawn and garden equipment (12%), according to EPA's 2007 estimates.

While the lawn and garden segment is responsible for a relatively small fraction of greenhouse gases, these manufacturers may be disproportionately affected by regulations due to the price-sensitivity of the equipment they produce. Lawn and garden equipment manufacturers have responded with data showing that their equipment may actually lower global warming. A recently released study funded by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) concluded that healthy turf grass can capture up to four times more carbon than is produced by a lawnmower engine.

"Mowing grass and pruning shrubs and trees keeps plants in a growing state," says Kris Kiser, OPEI's vice president of public affairs. "This, in turn, assures they are actively pulling carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — from the air."

New small engine regulations

Meanwhile, small-engine manufacturers are also preparing for the new Phase 3 regulations EPA is rolling out this fall. These regulations will reduce exhaust emissions by 35% and evaporative emissions in 2015.

Catalytic converters are expected to be one of the chief strategies equipment manufacturers employ to meet the new standards, an approach that could increase the price of walk-behind mowers by 18% and the price of commercial turf care mowers by 3%, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which implemented similar standards last January.

In addition to significantly reducing NOx, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions from these sources, the regulations will also reduce the amount of fuel that can evaporate from fuel lines, gas caps and fuel tanks by 45%.

"Although challenging, we believe the new exhaust emission standards are fair and achievable," Kiser says.

Reducing concerns about engine dumping

Manufacturers were happy they were able to convince EPA to insert a provision that will strengthen its enforcement efforts and assure equal compliance for U.S. and off-shore manufacturers. They are hopeful this will reduce the flood of cheap and illegal engines that have been imported from China and other Asian countries, including one company caught bringing in 200,000 non-compliant engines. The new enforcement measures include bonding requirements that will make it more difficult for importers to evade the emission standards through shell companies.

OPEI also successfully lobbied EPA for a provision that allows manufacturers to certify their engines to use E10 fuel.

Engine manufacturers have been concerned that regulators may adopt different fuel standards throughout the country. They cite studies showing that fuel blends containing more than 10% ethanol can hurt performance and shorten engine life.

"OPEI was strongly concerned about the many differing public and private calls for state or federal action to increase ethanol content in fuels as a policy objective absent sound feasibility study," Kiser says. "Proponents of expanded ethanol content often suggest ease of implementation. This ease of change implementation theory fails to consider the peculiar chemistry and physical properties of ethanol-gasoline mixtures and how these mixtures can dramatically affect the transportation, combustion, emissions and storage of these fuels.

Kiser says the E10 provision will ensure that lawn and garden products will operate efficiently using fuels that are currently in the marketplace.

Dave Jensen is a contributing editor from Milwaukee, WI.