In the US it’s been called one of
the fiercest political battles environmental regulators have ever
faced: the Battle of the Motor Mowers. And a second front will soon
open in Australia.

The difference of opinion is over the air
pollution created by motor mowers. The California Air Resources Board
says the modern mower engine creates 93 times more smog-making
emissions from a gallon of petrol than 2006 model cars. According to The New York Times, lawn mowers in California contributed more than 2% of the smog-forming pollution from all engines.

The
regulators want to clean up the exhaust by fitting mowers with small
catalystic converters. Briggs & Stratton, the dominant mower engine
maker which supplies Australia’s famous Victa, vigorously opposes the
new requirement.

Acting as peacemaker in the US dispute is the
Federal Government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which must
approve the scheduled Californian tightening of the emission
requirements for small engines.

Playing the defensive general
for Briggs & Stratton is Senator Christopher S. Bond, a Republican
from Missouri where two lawn mower motor factories are located. The
Senator believes the proposed new standards would increase costs to the
point where manufacturing would be moved to China.

Senator
Bond’s first weapon was to have Congress insert provisions in to
appropriations legislation that required the EPA to satisfy itself that
the Californian regulations would not entrail safety risks. Other
States were prevented from adopting the Californian regulations. Then
last year, according to The New York Times, his amendments to
appropriations legislation required the EPA to study whether any tough
regulations — California’s or the federal agency’s — would spawn
dangerous new fire-prone mowers.

The EPA has now reported
favourably on the Californian proposal’s safety and the National
Academy of Sciences hs praised the state’s regulatory procedures.

The
war continues and Australian environmental authorities should be
watching with interest. The Commonwealth Department of the Environment
reported back in June 2002 that an often overlooked source of air
pollution is lawnmowers. “Two and four stroke petrol engine lawnmowers
do not have any pollution control technology such as catalytic
converters” the Department acknowledged in its Status Report to the
Community: Living Cities – Air Toxics Program. Its suggestions for
dealing with the problem were hardly radical. The report suggested that
“if the lawn area is not too large, maybe an electric mower or a push
mower could be used.” It listed the chemicals emitted when mowing the
lawns as including:

  • Benzene
  • 1,3-Butadiene
  • Lead and compounds
  • Zinc and compounds
  • Sulfur dioxide

The Victorian State Environment Protection Authority in a report on air
quality in the Port Phillip region in 2000 referred to strategies
adopted overseas (primarily in the US) to reduce lawn mower emissions
that included the adoption of emissions standards for lawn mower
engines, buy-back schemes for old mowers and information and education
programs. It said:

Regulations or standards governing lawn mower
engines do not exist in Australia . However, most four-stroke engines
are imported with US standards certification and there would not seem
to be a pressing need to establish an Australian Standard for such
mowers. Two-stroke engines assembled locally are unlikely to meet US
standards. Consequently, it may be desirable to consider the emissions
performance of two-stroke mowers, with a view to determining whether
regulation is justified. This would most practically be pursued at the
national level, through the development of an Australian Standard and
formal recognition of the standard by jurisdictions.

Peter Fray

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