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EPA Should Require Cleanup of Dirty, Noisy Snowmobiles

Inadequate standards keep inefficient machines running, conservation groups argue
April 12, 2004
Washington DC —

The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to establish adequate controls for the air pollution and noise caused by snowmobiles, conservation groups argued today in federal court.

Representing Environmental Defense and Bluewater Network, Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew presented oral arguments in a case challenging EPA's inadequate national emissions standards for snowmobiles powered by inefficient, dirty two-stroke engines that dump 25-30 percent of their fuel unburned out their tailpipes. Snowmobiles produce so much dangerous air pollution that during the busiest winter seasons, rangers in Yellowstone National Park have been forced to wear respirators to protect themselves.

"The EPA's own data indicates that a single snowmobile discharges as much harmful air pollution as about 100 automobiles," said Vickie Patton of Environmental Defense. "Proven, cost-effective controls could dramatically lower this staggering pollution, which is harming some of the most pristine, scenic, and ecologically sensitive areas in the country -- as well as the people who recreate in them."

To reduce this harm to public health and welfare, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to set standards reflecting the greatest degree of emission reductions achievable through technology that will be available. Yet, the agency's snowmobile standards -- which will not be fully implemented until 2012 -- do not even require manufacturers to use technology that is already available. In fact, the standards allow nearly one-third of the snowmobiles manufactured in 2012 to be nearly as dirty and noisy as those being made today.

"Congress designed this forward-looking statute to provide the greatest degree of pollution reduction that can be achieved -- both now and into the future," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "But EPA's snowmobile rule doesn't even come close. It fails to require manufacturers to make reductions that can be achieved with today's technology, and makes no attempt to prompt further improvements down the road."

"From Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve to the flagship Yellowstone National Park, our forests and parks protect and preserve some our most untamed and beautiful landmarks. However, once again, the Bush Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for protecting our environment by allowing the indefinite sale of dirty two-stroke engines in snowmobiles, sacrificing our air quality at the cost of the public's health," said Russell Long, Bluewater Network's Executive Director. "We refuse to let Mr. Bush get away with this."

Today's oral argument before the federal court of appeals for the District of Columbia represents an important new development in the national debate over the pollution from snowmobiles. Over the last several months, there have been dueling decisions by federal district courts over the use of snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park. In December 2003, a federal district court in Washington DC reinstated a Clinton administration-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone. But soon after, a federal district court judge in Wyoming overturned the ban, thereby allowing snowmobiles in Yellowstone this winter.

The issue covered by today's arguments is a challenge to the overall national emission standards for all newly manufactured snowmobiles, wherever they are used. The EPA has established multi-phase standards that require a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2012. However, all four major snowmobile manufacturers -- representing more than 99 percent of the domestic market -- are already producing snowmobile models that are substantially cleaner than the 2012 standard would require. The manufacturers refuse to include these cleaner engines on all new snowmobile models, and are now suing to strike down EPA's already weak national standards.

The EPA's own data shows that the savings from reduced fuel consumption alone would largely offset the costs of cleaner engines, even under standards far more stringent than those the EPA has already set.

Earthjustice is representing Environmental Defense and Bluewater Network in Bluewater Network v. EPA, D.C. Cir. Nos. 03-1003 and consolidated cases, before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Additional Contacts:

Vickie Patton, Environmental Defense - 303/440-4901

Russell Long, Bluewater Network – 415/788-3666, ext.110


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Contacts

Jim Pew, 202-667-4500 x 214

Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500 x 213

We're the lawyers for the environment, and the law is on our side.