Pollution reductions from off-road vehicles, particularly snowmobiles, fall short

Bush Administration fails to protect public health, folds to industry interests

provided by Bluewater Network

ast month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued final air pollution regulations for off-road vehicles that squander an opportunity to substantially reduce air pollution and better protect public health with readily available technology. The final standards for snowmobiles are particularly troubling because they fail to encourage greater use of four-stroke engines that are already in snowmobiles today. With this rule, the Administration hands yet another victory to the snowmobile industry.

    “Dirty, noisy two-stokes are the most polluting engines on the planet, so frankly, we're shocked that the Bush Administration plans to allow them in new snowmobiles for at least another decade,” said Russell Long, Executive Director of Bluewater Network.

    “The EPA will allow snowmobiles to be produced with World War II-era two-stroke engines when other EPA rules for everything from lawn mowers to chain saws to jet skis largely phase them out,” said Scott Kovarovics, Director of the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition.

    The final rule will require makers of dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles to reduce hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide pollution by approximately 30 percent by 2006 and 50 percent by 2012 compared to current levels. These reductions fall far short of the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The Act instructs the EPA to issue emission standards that will produce “the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable through the application of technology which the Administrator determines will be available.” Technology rolling off assembly lines today, including four-stroke engines and catalytic converters, reduces pollution more significantly than EPA would require. Bombardier states that the four-stroke snowmobile it unveiled during the 2002 Winter Olympics reduces hydrocarbon emissions by 80 percent when compared to current two-stroke models. Every major snowmobile manufacturer is producing one or more four-stroke models.

    Two-stroke engines are significant sources of air pollution nationwide. According to the EPA, off-road vehicles alone produce 10 percent of the mobile source hydrocarbon pollution and snowmobiles produce more than 700,000 tons of hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide pollution annually. This pollution poses a serious threat to public health and has been linked to respiratory disease, cancer and premature death.

    “Two stroke engines dump a third of their fuel, unburned, into the environment, but four-stroke engines with catalytic converters would have reduced emissions by 98 percent – far beyond what is being proposed. Therefore, snowmobiles are going to continue to endanger riders with cancer-causing exhaust while increasing smog in pristine settings like Yellowstone National Park,” said Long. “These standards are woefully inadequate as it is painfully obvious that the Administration folded on snowmobile technology. We're headed for the courtroom.”

    This is not the first time the Bush Administration has adopted the snowmobile industry's agenda. Within six months of coming into office, it agreed to scuttle a Park Service rule that would phase out snowmobiles from Yellowstone National Park. The Administration is currently in the process of developing a new rule that would allow large-scale snowmobile use to continue despite the fact that five comment periods demonstrate that the public strongly supports a phaseout.

    Earlier this year, forty-eight conservation, public health and clean air organizations submitted recommendations to EPA that, if adopted, would better protect public health and substantially reduce air and noise pollution. For example, the groups urged EPA to utilize a mandatory, permanent labeling system modeled on California's highly-successful program for personal watercraft, which the industry is increasing using nationwide. This program uses a combination of stars to distinguish between personal watercraft with “low,” “very low,” and “ultra low” emissions. Unfortunately, EPA and the off-road vehicle industry have consistently opposed permanent, multitiered labels. The final rule will not require this common-sense labeling system, which allows consumers to easily distinguish between vehicles based on emission levels.

    “With permanent, multitiered labels, consumers can make informed choices between machines and force the industry to produce cleaner products with their pocketbooks,” said Kovarovics. “The Administration has missed an opportunity to harness market forces to encourage greater pollution reductions from all off-road vehicles.”

    The final rule is also unlikely to set emission standards for all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes tough enough to require manufacturers to adequately equip their machines with catalytic converters or address noise pollution from off-road vehicles. The EPA has previously regulated noise from similar vehicles in the past, including motorcycles.

    The Natural Trails and Waters Coalition includes conservation, recreation, hunting and other groups working to protect and restore all public lands and waters from the severe damage caused by snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, jet skis and all other off-road vehicles. www.naturaltrails.org.

    Bluewater Network is a national organization aggressively confronting the root causes of climate change and fighting environmental damage from the shipping, oil, and motorized recreation industries. www.bluewaternetwork.org