|San Diego Union Tribune
December 11, 1998
SACRAMENTO -- California's war on smog is taking to the high seas -- and to the state's lakes and rivers -- with a new plan to clamp down on air pollution from a half-million pleasure boats and one-person watercraft.
Air-quality enforcers yesterday unanimously approved rules to sharply cut pollutants from new two-stroke and four-stroke marine engines, including outboards, beginning in 2001.
Those engines are used in many motorboats; personal watercraft; small, lightweight jet boats; and small fishing boats. Inboard engines are exempt from the regulations.
The rules, far more stringent than federal anti-pollution standards, are intended to reduce emissions that state scientists contend have a dramatic impact on air quality.
The regulations would take effect first with engines built in 2001, then be tightened in stagesthrough 2008. By then, the engines would be 90 percent less polluting than they are today, according to the Air Resources Board.
Federal standards would reduce marine-engine emissions by 75 percent by 2025, a board staff report said.
"Currently, a personal watercraft operated for seven hours produces more smog-forming emissions than a 1998 passenger car driven for 100,000 miles. The impact of marine engines on air quality is especially serious on summer weekend days, when smog levels are highest and use of marine engines is heaviest," according to a staff analysis by the ARB.
Personal watercraft spew 100 tons or more of pollutants into California's air on a summer day, according to the staff. The most polluting of the craft, those powered by two-stroke engines, also pour unburned gasoline into the water.
The ARB, the state's top air-pollution regulator and an agency whose decisions are watched closely around the country, adopted the rules after months of hearings and testimony.
Environmentalists, while pleased with the new regulations, said they don't go far enough. Boat owners and sellers, engine manufacturers and lobbyists for personal watercraft said the regulations could economically cripple California's $11 billion boating industry.
"We think the rules could have been much tougher. They could have done much more. I don't think the marine industry has any idea how easy it got off," said Russell Long, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based Blue Water Network, an environmental coalition that includes the Sierra Club.
Representatives of the marine industry questioned the board's assessment of the environmental impact of the engines' pollution and said the industry had made good-faith efforts to provide clean engines.
Moreover, they said, the cost of modifying the engines to comply with the regulations is higher than the ARB's estimates. The board said altering an engine would add an average of 14 percent to the cost, which would be passed on to consumers.
The engines range in price from a few hundred dollars to $20,000.
"I'm not opposed to cleaning things up, so long as the standards they set are attainable," said Bill Jacobs, attorney for the San Diego Personal Watercraft Association.
The state's action is certain to raise the cost of personal watercraft, he said, adding that a small price hike of less than 4 percent shouldn't be a problem.
But if the pollution restrictions trigger a dramatic rise in cost to the manufacturers, "they may even leave California because this isn't their biggest market."
Despite assertions to the contrary, Jacobs said he doesn't believe personal watercraft by themselves contribute significantly to air pollution.
"The amount of pollution from personal watercraft is negligible because there are so few of them out there," he said.
John Jay, a Milpitas boat retailer, said the new regulations would strangle his business.
"It's a sticker-shock deal. It's just too costly. It's as if they are going to intentionally regulate me out of business. And when it happens in California, there's a ripple effect and it will happen in the rest of the country," Jay said.
Staff writer Terry Rodgers contributed to this report.