EPA, utilities aim anti-smog campaign against gas-powered lawn mowers


Pushing a gas-powered lawn mower for half an hour spews more smog-forming pollutants into the air than five round-trip drives between downtown Miami and neighboring Fort Lauderdale.

So says the Environmental Protection Agency, which today launches a program for cleaning up the filthy little motors that help cut our grass, trim our shrubs and blow leaves off our sidewalks.

The effort moves the battle against smog -- the nation's worst air pollution problem -- beyond cleaning up smokestacks and auto tailpipes. The goal is not to put a regulator on every lawn but to put cleaner-running equipment into lawn and garden stores.

The EPA and a group of 10 utilities will launch the program with a giveaway. They'll hand out 1,000 new cordless electric mowers that can cut grass for an hour on a single charge, according to the mower's manufacturer, Black & Decker.

In exchange for the clean new $500 machine, the EPA will collect 1,000 gasoline mowers. The agency will test the old models' emissions and develop pollution standards for lawn tools by late 1993, said Dennis C. Dix, director of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.

The small engines produce 50 times more pollution for each unit of horsepower than more efficient auto engines, according to the California Air Resources Board. Driving 172 miles in a new car produces about as much pollution as a half-hour's work with an old gasoline-burning lawn mower, the board estimates.

Past federal programs, focusing mostly on motor vehicles and large industries, have failed to clean up smog. The new program is a first step in a new direction. Eventually, the EPA also plans to look at other types of engines -- including outboard motors and farm equipment.

For now, the EPA plans no new pollution requirements for small engines. But Mr. Dix said manufacturers will eventually have to build lawn equipment that meet emissions standards.

Adding a catalytic converter, a device that enables an engine to burn hotter and more efficiently, for example, would make a mower so hot it could start lawn fires in places where the grass is dry, Mr. Dix said.

"Then there's cost. Will people go out and buy a $500 lawn mower just because he or she is concerned about the environment?"

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