Now the EPA wants to regulate your lawn mower

    Residents of southeast Wisconsin are quite familiar with the federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    The EPA has determined the quality of air in our area is hampered by auto emissions. According to the Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Program (WVIP) Annual Report for 2005-2006, "The U.S. EPA implemented a more stringent ozone standard, the so-called 8-hour ozone standard. In April 2004, several southeastern and eastern Wisconsin counties were designated non-attainment areas under this standard. The WVIP will play an important, ongoing role in the state’s efforts to comply with the standard."

    That means the auto emission program continues in southeast Wisconsin, although there was a change implemented in the program this summer. As of July 1, 2008, cars and trucks built before 1996 are exempt from undergoing emissions testing.

    This seems odd given that the conventional wisdom is older cars produce dirtier emissions and that newer, cleaner running automobiles that have replaced older cars are cleaner and stay cleaner much longer than their predecessors. If any vehicles should be exempt, it should be the newer and not the older models.

    Motorists in southeast Wisconsin are also required to pump and use reformulated gas (RFG) that during the summertime costs much more than gasoline in counties outside our region. How effective is RFG in improving the quality of our air? The EPA had to admit that it didn’t know.

    During May of this year, I signed a letter with other lawmakers asking the EPA to eliminate the RFG requirement. The EPA says it’s preparing a response. Remember, southeast Wisconsin consumers have complained mightily about the effect of RFG, wreaking havoc on automobiles and small engines.

    That leads to the latest EPA folly. The EPA on Sept. 4, 2008, implemented a rule that allows the agency to regulate the emissions of your lawnmower.

    Beginning in 2011, a 35 percent reduction in emissions will be required for new lawn and garden equipment. Emission reductions of 70 percent will also be enforced for speedboats and other recreational boats starting in 2010. The executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, Bill Becker, told The Associated Press the new EPA rules will be the equivalent of taking one out of every five cars and trucks off the road.

    Not surprisingly, the new rules carry a big cost. According to the EPA, it will cost $236 million a year to attain the required reductions in emissions so that the government can regulate your lawnmowers and boats. I will bet you can figure out rather quickly what will happen to those increased costs. You, the consumer, will pay higher prices when you purchase that next piece of lawn or gardening equipment. The California Air Resources Board calculates walk-behind lawnmowers will cost 18 percent more. The cost of commercial turf care mowers will go up about 3 percent.

    The EPA says that, "To meet the new exhaust emission standards, manufacturers will likely employ catalytic converters for the first time in many small watercraft and lawn and garden equipment." The agency claims the strategy of requiring catalytic converters is "feasible and safe," despite the objections of some members of Congress that installing the devices in small engines creates a fire hazard.

    Your car, your gasoline, your boat, your lawnmower, your weed trimmer … I shake my head in amazement and wonder what could possibly be next.


    State Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents Wisconsin’s 28th Senate District.

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