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EPA rule targets pollution by mowers

Proposal limits engine emissions

WASHINGTON -- Those polluting engine-powered mowers that are a staple of suburban lawn care would have to become much cleaner under emission limits proposed yesterday.

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposal follows a long-running dispute between Senators Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican who has sought to block the change in order to protect a small-engine maker in his home state, Briggs & Stratton Corp.

Walk-behind and riding mowers and other garden equipment account for up to 10 percent of summertime smog-forming emissions from mobile sources in some parts of the country.

The EPA's proposal applies to engines under 25 horsepower, which run nearly all walk-behind and riding lawnmowers as well as small generators and other devices. The rule would cut smog-forming emissions from the engines by 35 percent; the reductions would probably be accomplished by adding catalytic converters that reduce pollution from exhaust.

The rule would take effect in 2011 for riding mowers and 2012 for push mowers and would apply only to new engines.

Adding catalytic converters will make mowers more expensive, and some in the industry resisted the change. The California Air Resources Board has estimated that walk-behind mowers will cost 18 percent more under the new regulation, while the price of commercial turf care mowers will go up about 3 percent.

California already has enacted the rule. The nation's most populous state has unique authority under the Clean Air Act to establish its own pollution rules if it's granted a federal waiver. California got the small-engine waiver last December and began regulating walk-behind mowers on Jan. 1, with the restrictions for riding mowers coming Jan. 1, 2008.

Bond had initially sought to block California from instituting its regulation but backed off under pressure from Feinstein. He did succeed in blocking other states from copying California's rule, something the Clean Air Act normally allows. Instead, he required EPA to write the national standard that was proposed yesterday.