Return of Sen. Smog
Friday, Apr. 28 2006
Three years ago, California announced new emissions standards for lawn mower
engines. For the first time, they were required to have catalytic converters
like those on cars.
The change would cut roughly 22 tons per day of smog-forming pollutants from
the Golden State's air. That's like taking 800,000 cars off California roads
What was, arguably, good news for California became bad news for Missouri.
Giant lawn mower engine-maker Briggs & Stratton, which has two Missouri plants,
complained that it could not meet the new standards without major retooling.
That would put 1,750 jobs here at risk, the company said.
Enter Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. Mr. Bond, who sits on the powerful
Senate Appropriations Committee, inserted language into a spending bill in 2003
to delay California's air quality changes. In 2005, he reached a compromise to
prevent other states from adopting more stringent standards than those set by
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Mr. Bond also got Congress to order a pair of studies on the wisdom of
California's new rules, and the alleged fire hazard posed by lawn mowers with
Those actions were, of course, a smokescreen. What really seemed to worry Mr.
Bond was that federal regulators might adopt California's new standards. After
all, smog isn't just a California problem. It's also an issue in Missouri,
especially in Kansas City and St. Louis, where smog and ozone are problems
almost every summer. With the introduction of newer, more fuel-efficient cars
and trucks, lawn mower engines are one of the few remaining unregulated sources
of smog-forming chemicals.
Briggs & Stratton argues that meeting the new standard would add at least 30
percent to the cost of a new lawn mower. The E.P.A. says catalytic converters
would add about $20 to $25 to the cost of a new mower. California officials
estimate it would add about 18 percent.
We appreciate -- and share -- Mr. Bond's genuine concern for the health of
Missouri employers. And we understand Briggs & Stratton's need to keep its
costs down in order to remain competitive at a time when overseas manufacturers
are threatening to eat their lunch.
But we have to take a broader view of this issue. The quality of the air we
breathe can't be taken for granted, especially in places where sunshine and
engine emissions combine to create unhealthy smog. It's government's role to
protect the health of the many, not to tailor legislation to protect the
profits of the few.
Well, I guess I'd better go buy a new lawn mower before this gets passed.
But, the Post-Dispatch is essentially advocating that Briggs & Stratton follow its competition and move their manufacturing jobs overseas - to hell with the 1700 jobs currently here in Missouri. Sure, the local company will likely keep many white collar management & engineering jobs here, but if they're looking at the prospect of having to retool their entire factory to meet the new requirement (as well as retraining their workforce), they will likely make the switch to manufacture their product overseas in order to stay competitive.
No doubt that when Briggs & Stratton do close their plant, the P-D will blame the greedy executives and won't recall this particular editorial.
ARC: St Wendeler