CA Regs Could Force Firm to Head for the Border?
Rules could require Wisconsin-based Briggs & Stratton to modify lawn mowers, generators
MILWAUKEE - In what some say demonstrates the "domino effect" impact of legislation on international trade, Wisconsin-based Briggs & Stratton Co. says it could be forced to move some manufacturing jobs overseas if the California State Assembly adopts new pollution rules on small engines used for lawn mowers, generators and other power equipment.
According to a recent story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the rules would require Briggs and other small-engine manufacturers to put catalytic converters on their products starting in about 2008.
The move by the Democrat-dominated California State Assembly is backed by US Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who has said that the converters would cut California air pollution by 50 tons a day or the equivalent of taking 1.8 million cars off the road by 2002.
"The issue for Senator Feinstein is air quality," said her spokesman Scott Gerber.
But money and jobs are the issues for Briggs & Stratton and some other members of Congress, including US Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Kit Bond (R-MO).
The company argues it would be too expensive to reconfigure its US factories to produce engines that would meet the tougher California state standards.
"We could not do that economically here," so the company would have to ship some work overseas, said Thomas Savage, a Briggs & Stratton senior vice president.
Other small-engine manufacturers would be faced with the same issue, said Bill Harley, president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) in Alexandria, VA.
"It would be very expensive to add catalytic converters to small engines," he said. "It could mean a total redesign" of some equipment.
Kohl and Bond have launched an effort in Congress to block the State of California from imposing tougher pollution regulations on small engines.
The two senators say the measure is needed to protect several thousand jobs at Briggs & Stratton plants in Wisconsin and Missouri.
"In this economy in which 2.5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost, including 75,000 in Wisconsin, regulations that will force more jobs overseas need additional scrutiny," Kohl said in a written statement.
"The Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to take further action on regulating the emissions of small engines, and they are the ones who should be setting national standards, not California," he said.
Technically the California rules would not set a national standard. But practically they would, according to the rules opponents.
California is such a large market, its product standards often become national standards, said Ernie Blazar, spokesman for Bond.
"Companies often can't afford to have two production lines, one for California and one for the rest of the country. Small-engine companies would move production overseas as a way to offset higher costs that result from the California standards. That would mean thousands of US jobs going elsewhere," he said.?
The California rules could add more than 200% to the price of a small engine, Briggs & Stratton officials told the Sentinel-Journal.
Engine-makers would have to find new materials because the extreme heat from catalytic converters - which break down pollution from engine exhaust - could melt aluminum that's used in small engines.
"We would have to come up with new, more beefy engines," said Savage of the OPEI. "What most people can relate to is the catalytic converter on their car. But in a car you have a lot of space for a converter. On a lawn mower, you have inches to deal with."
The tougher regulations are not necessary, according to Briggs officials, since today's small engines produce far less pollutants than engines made years ago.
A provision has been included in a federal spending bill to block California, and other states that might follow its lead, from adopting tougher small-engine emissions standards. A bid led by Feinstein to strike the provision failed recently in a Senate subcommittee.
California legislators have said they would continue to press for the right to set stricter pollution regulations for small engines. The effort is supported by Kathleen McGinty, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources.
"The impact of the pollution from these engines on public health is well documented," she said in a recent statement. "We are concerned that actions in the US Senate could limit the ability of states to ensure public health and protect the environment. It is a basic tenet of the federal Clean Air Act that states and localities are best suited to determine what programs and measures they need to achieve clean air."
A few changes in technology could result in small engines that run cleaner, said Larry Bruss, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources section chief.
"Car engines have been heavily regulated since about the 1960s, and there have been generations of improvements including catalytic converters," he said.
Should California adopt tougher pollution measures, Briggs & Stratton officials say there would not be an immediate threat of job losses, but that a threat could be realized in only a few years.
Other states could follow California's example, which in effect would set a new national standard, Savage said.
"Would we still be in business?
Yes," he said. "But this is a very big deal" that could result in job losses in Wisconsin and Missouri. We are hoping, perhaps against hope" that California's efforts are stopped."
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