New lawn mowers to cut smog, cost more

The good and the bad of the new EPA rules for lawn mowers.

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The US Environmental Protection Agency has released new pollution standards for small engines that power lawn mowers, string trimmers, and other gardening equipment (as well as inboard and outboard boat motors and personal watercraft).

Suggesting that the new regulations will enable Americans to cut pollution as well as grass, the EPA says they will "yield annual emission reductions of 600,000 tons of hydrocarbons, 130,000 tons of nitrogen oxide, 5,500 tons of direct particulate matter, and 1.5 million tons of carbon monoxide."

It also expects the new rules will save approximately 190 million gallons of gasoline a year.

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"When fully implemented, this rule will be the air pollution equivalent of removing one out of every five cars and trucks on the road," Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, told Reuters.

"Lawn-care and boat engines are major emitters of air pollution," notes David Shepardson of The Detroit News. "The EPA said they account for about a quarter of carbon monoxide and other emissions. Small engines release up to 25 percent of the gasoline unburned in their exhaust."

On the downside, the new standards are also expected to increase the price of new gas-powered lawn equipment by 18 percent, the EPA says -- although no one really knows the final amount for sure, since manufacturers have three years to meet the lawn-equipment standards. (Two years for boating equipment.)

The EPA estimates that implementing the changes will cost $236 million – which will be passed along to consumers.

A spokesman for Briggs & Stratton, the small-engine manufacturer, told The Washington Post that the company hadn't yet decided how it will meet the standards. But he added, "Things will be more expensive."

This will affect all new mowers manufactured in 2011 and beyond, but not mowers manufactured before then, even if they're sold in 2011.

The standards are already in effect in California, which was granted a waiver in 2006 to issue its own lawn mower regulations, which were put into effect last year.

Needless to say, environmentalists are thrilled. Some of those who will have to pay for the new equipment are less so.

If you'd like to comment on lawn mowers, the EPA has a blog(!) that welcomes comments on a weekly topic. Here's the one last month about lawn mowing. (Comments are still welcome.)

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