Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is demonstrating his clout with Republicans in Washington as he takes a leading role in an effort to turn back a measure that would have stripped California of authority to regulate air pollution from small engines.
In his first week on the job, Schwarzenegger, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat; Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands); and other lawmakers, is trying to kill a proposal that Republican Sen. Christopher Bond has sought on behalf of the nation's largest manufacturer of engines for lawn mowers, portable generators and boat motors. The company, Wisconsin-based Briggs & Stratton Corp., has two plants in Bond's home state of Missouri.
Small off-road engines are a rapidly growing pollution source and will soon release more smog-forming emissions than automobiles, according to the state Air Resources Board
Bond succeeded in getting the measure through the Senate, but after congressional leaders heard from Schwarzenegger and the state's new secretary for environmental protection, Terry Tamminen, members of a House and Senate conference committee rejected Bond's move late Wednesday.
Although Bond is still trying to re-craft the measure to impose other restrictions on states seeking to regulate the machines, Schwarzenegger's move won praise from environmental activists. They say that the turnabout would never have happened without his active involvement.
"We're winning because of the governor's intervention. This is the first concrete sign of really good stuff from these people. This is what we want, the governor of California protecting the state from special interests by working with his Republican colleagues in a way Gray Davis could not have done," said Sierra Club lobbyist V. John White.
"It sends an important political message," said Jason Mark, clean vehicles director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "It's only the first week and the new administration is already weighing in on environmental issues. This is an encouraging sign that the governor will flex his political muscle to protect California's air."
Upon taking office, the Schwarzenegger administration got an earful from farmers, automakers and manufacturers. They worry that if the small off-road engines are exempted from clean-air rules under Bond's measure, regulators would target other businesses to compensate. Also, failure to regulate the small engines would hamper California's ability to meet smog cleanup standards by 2010, potentially costing the state billions of dollars in federal highway funds.
Through an amendment to a spending bill, Bond sought to rescind state regulations that cut smog-forming emissions from lawn and garden equipment by 35%. Nullifying the regulations would have resulted in a 4% increase in total emissions statewide, equal to adding 2.5 million cars in the smoggiest state in the nation. .
After his inauguration Monday, Schwarzenegger enlisted environmental activist and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a cousin of the governor's wife, to urge Rep. James T. Walsh, (R-N.Y.) to oppose the Bond amendment, said sources close to Schwarzenegger. Walsh is a member of the conference committee considering the matter. Meanwhile, the sources said, Tamminen was deployed to seek support from Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.), who is also on the conference committee, House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert (R-Ill) and Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.
"Just the fact that the governor would reach out to a member of Congress on this issue says a lot and speaks to what a priority this is. It was very significant," said Dan Gage, a spokesman for Walsh.
Meanwhile, Feinstein and Lewis, another conference committee member, lobbied members of the California congressional delegation for support and worked at developing a compromise that Bond would accept. That effort is still underway.
At the same time, officials from several other states urged their representatives to oppose the Bond amendment. Other states often adopt California's air quality regulations.
"It's a health issue and a state's rights issue. The states view this as an attack on their rights and authority. It's a message coming from lots of the states," said S. William Becker, executive director of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators and the Assn. of Local Air Pollution Control Officials.
The governor's intervention was clear evidence that he intended to make good on campaign pledges to protect California's environment, said Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger's press secretary.
"The environment is a high priority for all Californians. It's one of the things that makes California unique. He is going to be someone focusing on environmental issues and he will direct his staff to be involved in this issue," Thompson said. "He's dealing with budgetary issues and other issues, but it's not a myopic view."