EPA Seeks to Limit Emissions from Lawn Mowers

A staple of lawn care along with small recreational watercraft will operate much cleaner under emission limits EPA proposed.

Agency officials said the proposal, announced on April 17, is groundbreaking in several areas. To meet the new exhaust emission standards, manufacturers are expected to use catalytic converters for the first time ever in many types of small watercraft, lawn and garden equipment. After an analysis and extensive work with diverse stakeholders, EPA determined that such a strategy was feasible and safe.

"From the largest locomotives to the smallest lawn mowers, EPA's current and planned clean air regulations will continue environmental progress, keeping the air cleaner than a generation ago," said EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Bill Wehrum.

This proposed rule also includes:

  • Fuel evaporative standards for all the types of equipment and watercraft covered in the rulemaking.
  • National standards for marine vessels powered by sterndrive or inboard engines.
  • Carbon monoxide standards for gasoline-powered engines used in recreational watercraft.

Americans spend more than three billion hours per year using lawn and garden equipment. Currently, a push mower emits as much hourly pollution as 11 cars and a riding mower emits as much as 34 cars. Officials said that with this proposed rule, non-road gasoline-powered engines, such as those used in lawn and garden equipment, would see an additional 35-percent reduction in hydrocarbon (HC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions beyond a 60-percent reduction that finished phasing in last year under an earlier rulemaking. Those engines also would see a 45 percent reduction in fuel evaporative emissions.

Additionally, recreational watercraft can emit as much as 348 cars an hour. By 2030, recreational watercraft powered by gasoline engines would see a 70-percent reduction in HC and NOx, a 20 percent reduction in carbon monoxide (CO) and a 70-percent reduction in fuel evaporative emissions. When fully implemented, the rule would result in annual emission reductions of 630,000 tons of HC, 98,000 tons of NOx, 6,300 tons of direct particulate matter, and 2.7 million tons of CO.

The total estimated public health benefits of this rule are about $3.4 billion by 2030, agency officials said. These benefits would prevent 450 premature deaths, 500 hospitalizations and 52,000 work days lost annually. When fully implemented, EPA expects that technology needed to meet the standard will have the added benefit of saving about 190 million gallons of fuel annually. The estimated costs of the new standards range from $9.5 million in 2008 to $620 million in 2037. These control costs are partially offset by estimated annual fuel savings of about $360 million in 2037 once standards are fully implemented. As a result, the net cost of the program in each year ranges from $6.4 million in 2008 to $260 million in 2037.

The new standards would apply as early as 2011 for most lawn and garden equipment (under 25 horsepower) and 2009 for watercraft.

Environmental Defense officials welcomed the proposal, stating that technology to clean up these engines is readily available and cost-effective nationwide. According to Environmental Defense, California already has adopted rigorous emission standards for these engines. "Additionally, four of the top manufacturers of these small engines, including Honda, Kawasaki, Kohler and Tecumseh, have all voiced public support for adoption of federal standards that match the cleaner California emission standards," Environmental Defense stated.

Comments are due Aug. 3, 2007. The proposal and information about how to submit comments are at:

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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