Monday, July 13, 2009

The EPA vs. boats, mowers, and jobs

From the 13 July 2009 Greater Niagara Newspapers

By Bob Confer

We’ve been told time and time again that the exhaust from gas-powered engines used in our vehicles contributes to the degradation of the environment. In the 1970’s we were told that the excessive fumes would cool the Earth and bring on a new ice age. In the 1990’s and 2000’s the tune switched: The carbon dioxide would warm the Earth, melt the polar ice caps and bring on mass starvation.

With Al Gore and similar Chicken Littles relentlessly driving that point home, regulatory agencies tend to overact. After all, if they don’t do something, that one-degree difference in air temperature might condemn a billion people to death. That’s where folks like the California Air Resource Board come in to devise some truly-ridiculous regulations.

CARB somehow got it in their heads that your fuel tanks and powered-equipment not only contribute to global warming when they’re running, but also when they are not. They believe that the plastic tanks and hoses used on your lawn tractor and boat breathe incredible amounts of gas fumes to the air on a non-stop basis. Sure, they might pass some gas through a vented cap or a loose-fitting hose but that’s not what CARB focused on. Instead, they analyzed the gas molecules that gradually work their way through the walls of the tanks or the bodies of the hose. It sounds too nutty to be true, but the CARB people became adamant that those ultra-microscopic particles are killing the atmosphere and, in turn, polar bears. So, laws were devised in California that would stop this fiendish assault on the environment.

Sadly, the Environmental Protection Agency ate-up this tripe and decided to introduce similar standards at the federal level for mowers and watercraft, beginning in 2011. That means pricy changes to the products themselves, both to the manufacturer and the consumer.

Manufacturers like Biggs & Stratton must offer products that do not lend themselves to diurnal emissions, requiring significant changes to the make-up of the goods. It could mean new fuel tanks. To do that, they and their suppliers will have to ditch the basic technology that’s been used for decades. Most tanks will need to be manufactured in a multi-layer manufacturing process, much like a ketchup bottle but in a larger scale.

Because of the investment in manufacturing equipment, most of their suppliers will no longer make fuel tanks. You can see that locally…right here at my company. We’ve been making gas tanks since the 1970’s. 2010 will be the last year we do that. The new-fangled machines necessary to mold what the EPA wants would cost us over $4 million. In comparison, the machine that makes them as they are right now would cost less than a million. It doesn’t take an accountant to see that purchasing the new machine is a poor investment. The payback would occur well after a dozen years. Because of that, we will lose that portion of the business and a few Western New Yorkers will lose their job thanks to the EPA. Other manufacturers will follow suit and only those willing to go out on a limb and buy a new line will be making tanks any more, that is, if their finances, already affected by the recession, can assume the risk for the long-term.

But enough about me and the business world. What about you?

The new tanks and hoses (in conjunction with catalytic converters, which represent another way to meet the standard) will add significantly to the cost of lawnmower. CARB says the law will make a push mower $50 more expensive. The EPA says a riding mower will be $100 more expensive.

Chances are, when you’re done mowing the lawn you want to get out on the water and relax. That’s when the new law really kicks you. It will make a portable marine fuel tank twice as costly or add $280 to the cost of an outboard engine and $360 to a jet ski.

If you don’t find that to be bothersome enough, realize that if the mower manufacturers go to catalytic converters they might make the environment even worse. The EPA’s proponents state that those engines run hotter, so they increase the risk of fire when cutting near lawn debris (like dead grass or leaves) or in a dry place (like California).

Sometimes, with laws like this, you just need to sit back and see how oppressive – and stupid – our government has become. You could beat them at their own game, though, and buy your next mower, boat, or fuel tank this year or next. Not only will you be stimulating the economy, but you’ll be stimulating the atmosphere, too.

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