State considers watercraft emissions today |

State considers watercraft emissions today

Andy Bourelle

KINGS BEACH – The California Air Resource Board today is looking at a proposal to adopt a stringent watercraft emissions standard for the state. Although Lake Tahoe regulators are not basing Tahoe’s watercraft ban on that ordinance, they still will be looking closely at what happens.

“If it’s adopted tomorrow, it’s certainly going to assist our efforts up here,” Jim Baetge, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, told the bistate regulatory board’s Advisory Planning Commission at its meeting Wednesday.

Despite earlier indications over the summer that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency likely would amend its ordinance to an emissions standard based on CARB’s new requirements rather than a ban on certain engine types, TRPA staff last week announced it would probably stick to its original plan of banning carbureted two-stroke engines from Lake Tahoe, effective June 1, 1999, with only minor changes.

Even with the change of heart, however, the CARB requirements will help TRPA with its regulations.

“There’s a whole lot of consistency between the two programs,” said Pam Drum, TRPA public affairs coordinator, after the meeting. “They complement each other very well. It just reaffirms we are on the right track.”

CARB staff is proposing a sticker program that will phase in exhaust emission standards. The first phase, starting in 2001, corresponds with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2006 standard, and the other standards – for 2006 and 2008 – are much more aggressive.

The CARB regulations deal with the manufacturing of watercraft and not a prohibition such as TRPA’s requirements. However, the watercraft banned by TRPA also will not comply with CARB’s 2001 requirement. Watercraft with CARB stickers on them will comply with TRPA regulations, helping with enforcement.

TRPA governors took action on the ban in February 1997. However, the ordinance left room for changes, and numerous agencies have been researching motorized watercraft this year.

The National Marine Manufacturers Association and other agencies, rental firms and residents in October 1997 filed a lawsuit against TRPA for the ban. After TRPA indicated it likely would go to an emissions standard instead, Judge Frank C. Damrell placed a stay on the lawsuit in August of this year. However, Damrell dismissed most of the plaintiffs’ complaints in October, and TRPA claimed “near total victory.” The allegations were amended, and a trial is scheduled for May 1999. A status conference is scheduled for Dec. 18.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Gabby Barrett, TRPA director of long-range planning, said the agency decided to stick with the engine standard because it is more legally defensible.

“The driving force behind this is the legal argument,” Barrett said. “Our attorneys are saying, ‘You’re on better footing with engine types rather than emissions.'”

With the new research, several planning commissioners said they felt more comfortable with TRPA’s actions than when the board took the initial action.

“At that point in time, I was unconvinced this was a problem beyond the annoyance factor,” said board member Kevin Cole. “Since then, the scientific fact now is undisputable, and my attitude has changed 180 degrees.”

Others agreed.

“Last year when this came before us, I was very uncomfortable with the research data, and now I’m very comfortable with it,” said board member Sharon Kvas.

According to the report, the total amount of fuel used on Lake Tahoe during the 1998 boating season was estimated to be 1.5 million gallons. Two-cycle carbureted engines used only about 11 to 12 percent of that total. However, because two-cycle engines have the largest percentage of unburned fuel going into the water, those engines are believed to be responsible for significant loading of gasoline compounds into the lake, including more than 90 percent of the MTBE, 70 percent of the benzene and 80 percent of the toluene in Lake Tahoe.

TRPA anticipates the presence of gasoline compounds in the water during the summer boating season will decrease significantly after the ban is in effect.

“I think that the action in June ’99 is going to be significant in taking out these compounds,” Baetge said.

The governing board of TRPA is going to look at the personal watercraft issue next week and likely will take action on amending the ordinance in January.

CARB meets today at 8 a.m. in Sacramento.

What: Regular meeting of the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency

Where: Horizon Casino Resort, Stateline

When: Dec. 16, 9:30 a.m.

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