Bill would ban two-cycle engines from most California lakes
The debate over two-stroke engine pollution at Lake Tahoe will soon be argued statewide, after a California assemblywoman introduced a bill Monday that would ban two-cycle engines from any lake that is a source of drinking water.
Saying that the discharge of raw gasoline from two-cycle engines is unacceptable, Assemblywoman Debra Bowen, D-Torrance, is seeking to restrict the use of any two-cycle engine, including those in personal watercraft, larger than 10 horsepower.
The ban could affect more than half of all lakes and reservoirs in the state.
“Two-stroke engines, by design, are dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas and oil into lakes and reservoirs that form the backbone of California’s drinking water supply,” Bowen said Tuesday. “We enter into this knowing it’s an incendiary issue. I’m sure people who love their Jet Skis will be unhappy, but there’s at least that many people who would be happy to see them gone.”
Bowen introduced AB 2349 because two-cycle engines discharge a fourth or more of their fuel unburned. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted regulations that require marine engine manufacturers to reduce emissions from two-cycle engines by three-fourths over eight years, but Bowen said the regulation will not safeguard California drinking water.
“If the EPA goal was to protect water quality, they are taking 10 years to phase in technology that’s dirtier than what exists now,” Bowen said. She referred to the existence of four-cycle engines, which are typically used in inboard engines and automobiles.
Reaction to Bowen’s bill from boating interest was swift.
Mark Denny, government liaison for the International Jet Sports Boating Association, said the bill seeks to protect water quality by punishing recreational boaters. He suggested the source of the problem is the controversial fuel additive MTBE, which the Legislature was unable to ban in its last session, instead approving a study of its effects.
“If the Legislature wants to get serious on this problem, it would address the real problem; they would ban MTBE,” Denny said. He called Bowen an environmental extremist who is unconcerned with California’s $800 million recreational boating industry.
“Given the Legislature’s track record on this issue, they’re more concerned with the interests of the oil industry than the interests of their constituents and their ability to enjoy recreational boating,” Denny said. He added that personal watercraft operators have more of an interest than other boaters in ensuring that California waterways remain clean.
Jerry Desmond Jr., executive director of Recreational Boaters of California, said the group will study the scope and impact of Bowen’s bill before taking a position on it.
“We need to see if it is aimed at MTBE or is more broad, what defines a domestic water supply and look at the bigger picture of legislative proposals regarding MTBE,” Desmond said.
Bowen discounted the importance of MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, to the issue of whether emissions from two-cycle engines are acceptable.
“We’ll be the first to acknowledge that MTBE pollution has highlighted the issue, but this bill doesn’t address just MTBE,” Bowen said. “If we just banned MTBE, would that mean discharging 25 percent of an engine’s gasoline, with its benzene, toluene and other hydrocarbons, is OK?”
The California Air Resources Board and Environmental Protection Agency is already looking at two-cycle engine regulations that would be stricter than the federal regulations that are about to go into effect. Bowen said California has long had water quality standards that exceed federal guidelines.
“Our drinking water comes from different sources than what much of the country uses,” she said. “In the Midwest, most water comes from artesian wells. In California, we have developed an elaborate system of reservoirs and other surface water.”
Director Russell Long of the San Francisco-based Bluewater Network, which has criticized the federal EPA two-cycle standards as too lax, welcomed Bowen’s bill.
“This legislation sends a message to two-stroke manufacturers that pollution of our drinking water by two-stroke engines is absolutely intolerable,” Long said.
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