Two-stroke issue still up in the air |

Two-stroke issue still up in the air

B.H. Bose

Despite the local planning agency’s announcement that it will drop its June 1999 ban on all two-stroke engines on Lake Tahoe and adopt regulations based upon emission standards, the ramifications remain murky.

“We are shooting for the end of the year,” said John Marshall, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s legal counsel, referring to when the TRPA will replace the ban with the new standards. “Currently, we will continue to get more information and public feedback. I also believe there are on-going scientific studies, which will be used.”

Jim Baetge, executive director of the TRPA, said the bistate agency will lift next summer’s ban on two-stroke outboard and personal watercraft engines and develop new emission standards based upon California Air Resources Board’s regulations. It was an announcement that was expected.

“The board understood this when the ban was adopted,” said Don Miner, Douglas County representative on the TRPA board of directors. “We knew we would develop more scientific data and then amend the ordinance to go toward emissions. It has been a part of the game plan all along.”

The California regulations are expected Dec. 10, when CARB’s staff brings its proposal before the 11-member board.

“We will start regulations in 2001,” said Jerry Martin, spokesman with CARB. “By 2010, it will result in a 50 percent cut in what goes on today.”

The goal of CARB is to reduce emissions from all marine engines by 50 percent beyond what is called for in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations effective in the year 2010.

While the federal EPA hopes to reduce marine hydrocarbon emissions by 75 percent by the year 2025, the state board believes a more stringent approach is needed due to the state’s air quality.

If approved by the state air board in December, the regulations will go into effect in 2001 and will apply only to engines built and sold in and after the 2001 model year. The three-year buffer period will be included to allow engine manufacturers time to develop engines that burn more effectively and cleanly.

Adopting new standards became a hot issue after officials with CARB discovered alarming data from several studies it recently concluded. Currently, personal watercraft (such as Jet Skis) contribute about 312 tons per day of “ozone precursors,” namely hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. In just two hours of operation, the study concluded that a personal watercraft exudes emissions equal to that of a 1998 automobile that has been operated for more than 100,000 miles. It was reported approximately 2.5 gallons of unburned fuel is released directly into the water during every one hour a personal watercraft is used.

Compared to automobiles, the amount of emission pollutants discharged is astounding, added Martin.

“The proposal for cars, which will be heard in November, will call for vehicles to be 99 percent cleaner by 2007,” Martin said, referring to the fact that car engines manufactured in 2007 will have to burn 99 percent more effectively than the ones today. “By comparison (to the personal watercraft proposal), the regulations on cars are much higher. But, still, the half a million personal watercraft that operate every day produce about a quarter of all pollutants that 26 million automobiles do in a day.”

“And these watercraft only operate during the day and in the summer, as opposed to 24 (hours a day), seven (days a week) with cars,” he added. “They roughly dump a quarter of their gas into the water and there is no way we would tolerate that from a car. These (engines) are a serious source of air and now water pollution.”

As a result of these studies, as well as other factors, TRPA staff apparently decided that dropping the ban and coming up with new standards that would follow the California’s board would be better.

Several months from now, the TRPA governing board will make the final decision as to what the new standards will be.

“We will probably adopt the new California standards in December and then decide whether or not to adopt the enactment period (2001),” Miner said.

Miner said the existing ban probably will be officially eliminated at the December meeting and the new ordinance following California’s new emission standards will replace it. The public will then have the opportunity to comment.

“It should be a healthy and lively debate,” Miner said. “The new ordinance should tighten things up. It won’t be so capricious and arbitrary. If someone pollutes the air or water, they will be punished.”

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