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Schwarzenegger joins D.C. Democrats to pressure GOP on lawnmowers

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Nov. 20, 2003

Washington -- At the urging of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican negotiators Wednesday removed from a big spending bill a provision that would have gutted California's new clean-air rule limiting emissions from lawnmowers, weed whackers and garden equipment.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has fought the provision for months, asked the new governor and California House Republicans for help after she failed several times to defeat the provision in the Senate.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., added the measure in the Senate to an appropriations bill funding the Environmental Protection Agency and other departments at the behest of small-engine manufacturer Briggs & Stratton, which said California's new smog rule threatened 22,000 manufacturing jobs in Missouri and other states and might force the company to move some of its operations to China.

The House version of the spending bill did not contain the Bond amendment.

Rep. James Walsh, the New York Republican who chairs the appropriation subcommittee overseeing the bill, was instrumental in stripping the provision. Walsh said he had talked with officials in Schwarzenegger's office who "made it very clear" the provision would hurt California's effort to reduce air pollution.

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to a crowd during a campaign rally for Ohio Governor John Kasich at the Wells Barns at the Franklin Park Conservatory on March 6, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed Governor Kasich as the Republican Presidential candidate for the 2016 presidential election.

But the negotiations melding the House and Senate versions of the spending bill are not yet complete, and Bond vowed another attempt to save the provision. "The battle is not over," Feinstein said late Wednesday.

Schwarzenegger's office confirmed that officials had weighed in with members of California's congressional delegation and key committee leaders.

New York Gov. George Pataki also lobbied against Bond's amendment, which would have asked the EPA to craft a new rule on small engines of 50 horsepower and below for all states, denying them their right under the Clean Air Act to follow California's rules.

The California Air Resources Board approved the new rule Sept. 25 limiting emissions from non-road engines of 25 horsepower or less, which include most gas and diesel lawn and garden equipment, to take effect in 2007. The agency estimates that the rule will remove the smog equivalent of 1.8 million cars by 2020.

Feinstein has been fighting the Bond amendment as "the mother and father of all environmental riders" to aid one company by making a major change to the Clean Air Act without hearings in Congress.

She said small engines on lawn and garden equipment had been largely unregulated and accounted for a substantial share of mobile emissions, repeatedly citing an agency statistic that operating a gasoline lawnmower for one hour produces the smog equivalent of driving a car for 13 hours.

Feinstein said that if California was not allowed to target these comparatively dirty engines, it would have to clamp down further on air pollution sources such as power plants and oil refineries, which are already heavily regulated, greatly increasing the cost of further emission reductions. She argued that would raise energy prices and cost California jobs.

Feinstein also got into a public fight with Briggs & Stratton Chairman John Shiely after she asked for a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the company's claims on its financial statements that California's new rule would have "no material effect" on its operations -- a contradiction of the firm's assertion that jobs would be threatened.

Shiely called the tactic "unsavory and cynical."

California environmental officials countered that they had followed "virtually to the letter" modifications suggested by engine makers, including Briggs & Stratton. Rival lawnmower maker American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and two industry trade groups said they were satisfied with California's rule.

When Feinstein appeared to be on the verge of killing the amendment in the Senate, Bond countered with charges that adding catalytic converters to small engines would increase fire hazards.

Bush has threatened to veto the overall spending bill over unrelated issues, including a provision that overturns a new Federal Communications Commission rule easing limits on media concentration.

Negotiators are expected to finish the bill and send it to the House and Senate for final votes by the end of the week as Congress seeks to adjourn for the year.

Carolyn Lochhead was the Washington correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she covered national politics and policy for 27 years. She grew up in Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County) and graduated from UC Berkeley cum laude in rhetoric and economics. She has a masters of journalism degree from Columbia University. Twitter: @carolynlochhead

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