|San Francisco Chronicle
Friday, December 11, 1998
New outboard motors and jet skis, among the last unregulated sources of water and air pollution in California, must change their harmful ways, state air quality regulators ruled yesterday.
Despite protests from boat owners, dealers and manufacturers, the state Air Resources Board approved new rules that for the first time will sharply cut pollutants from engines used in outboard motorboats and personal watercraft.
Environmental groups applauded the board's action. ``It's a win for the environment,'' said Russell Long, executive director of the Bluewater Network, a coalition based in San Francisco that had advocated somewhat stricter standards.
`While not as strong as we had originally hoped, it is a pretty good start.''
The rules are intended to reduce emissions that agency scientists contend have a major effect on air quality. For example, they said, a jet ski operated for one hour generates as much smog- forming pollution as a new 1998 model car does in a year.
The regulations will have another benefit: reducing the amount of MTBE and other gasoline components that are dumped into state drinking-water reservoirs. Between 20 percent and 30 percent of the fuel in some two- stroke engines is emitted unburned into the environment.
The rules will apply only to new engines beginning in the 2001 model year and will be tightened in stages through 2008. Marine engines sold in California will be 70 percent less polluting by 2001 and 90 percent by 2008.
The rules were adopted by a vote of 8 to 0, with three members of the state air board not present. Agency regulators will enforce the new rules.
The plan puts California five years ahead of the marine engine standard adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and will make manufacturers meet in 2001 the emission levels that EPA is requiring in 2006.
The rules had met with a wave of opposition from engine manufacturers, boat dealers and boat owners, who predicted that the rules would make boat engines too expensive for many consumers and hurt the $11 billion a year boating industry in California.
Industry representatives stressed that they are in favor of cleaner engines, saying manufacturers already have invested $500 million to retool their products. And most industry representatives supported the state's pollution-reduction targets through the 2006 model year.
But reaching the strictest standards, which go into effect in 2008, would double the average cost of an outboard engine to $14,000, they said. Such a price increase would cause an 80 percent drop in new engine sales, costing the industry $325 million a year, according to an industry study.
``Our product is very price sensitive,'' said Robert Wyman, representing the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which commissioned the analysis.
To illustrate the threat, John Jay, owner of Best Marine in Milpitas, said his business suffered a 30 percent drop in sales after Lake Tahoe officials, concerned about high levels of the gas additive MTBE, announced a ban on two- stroke outboard and jet ski engines beginning in June.
Jay said that for the first time since 1987, he had to borrow money from a bank to get through the year. ``These people could regulate me out of business,'' he said.
Air Resources Board members stressed their concern for the boating industry, particularly small businesses like Jay's. But for the most part, the board and its staff dismissed the industry's characterization of the potential effect of the rules as greatly exaggerated.
By the staff's own calculations, the regulations will raise prices on marine engines between $150 and $2,000, depending on the model, but no more than 14 percent. And some of that money would be recovered in their higher fuel efficiency.
In a 90-page report on the regulations, the board's staff concluded that the effect on cost would be ``insignificant.''
Air quality officials also noted that many reservoirs around the state have begun to limit high polluting engines out of concern about MTBE. Being able to offer cleaner-burning engines may actually boost sales, they said.
In any case, they said the air quality benefits are unmistakable. On a summer weekend day, marine engines generate nearly 800 tons of smog-forming pollution, as much as all the cars in the Los Angeles basin on an average day.
Statewide, the new rules will reduce air pollution by an average of 110 tons a day, which is as much as the state's smog-check program.
In a separate development, a state advisory panel concluded yesterday that there is not sufficient information to warrant listing the gasoline additive MTBE as a carcinogen under the state's anti- toxics law known as Proposition 65.
On Wednesday, another advisory panel came to a similar conclusion on the question of whether MTBE is a reproductive toxin.
Officials of the Oxygenated Fuels Association, which represents makers of MTBE, welcomed the decision.
`With its decision today, (the state) joins experts around the globe
who have concluded that MTBE is not a cancer-causing agent," said Terry
Wigglesworth, the association's executive director.