updated 6/1/2004 8:12:45 PM ET 2004-06-02T00:12:45

Federal appeals court judges upheld tougher pollution controls on snowmobiles Tuesday but asked why the Environmental Protection Agency rule would exempt almost a third of newly built snowmobiles.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected claims by the snowmobile industry that the EPA had no authority to require new snowmobiles to have cleaner-burning engines to reduce air pollution.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by two environmental groups who argued that the 2002 EPA rule that required new snowmobiles to have on average a 50 percent reduction in tailpipe emissions by 2012 was too lenient.

The EPA acknowledged it had written the regulation in such a way that manufacturers would not have to equip about 30 percent of their snowmobiles with cleaner engines. The industry said to require 100 percent compliance would be too costly and would force manufacturers to stop making certain models.

While letting the regulation stand, the three-judge panel said Tuesday the EPA must clarify its analysis and say why it concluded that some of the snowmobiles could not be equipped with the advanced control technology to curtail pollution or why some models could not be simply discontinued.

James Pew, an attorney for the environmentalists, said the ruling means the court “found EPA’s rationale didn’t make sense,” and it would have to produce a compelling case for letting manufacturers avoid the new requirements on many of their machines.

‘Dirtiest vehicles’
“The EPA claims this is the best they can do. The court said you need a better explanation,” said Pew. “Snowmobiles are the dirtiest vehicles on the road or off the road. They emit as much pollution in a single hour of operation as a car emits over 24,000 miles of driving.”

Pew said that if the EPA doesn’t tighten the rules to cover all machines, environmentalists, including the Environmental Defense and the Bluewater Network, which filed the last lawsuit, will sue again.

“For the most part, the court upheld EPA’s decisions in our effort to regulate emissions from snowmobiles,” EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said in a statement. “We will provide the court with additional information on when technology will be available to achieve significant emission reductions from snowmobiles.”

Predicted cost: $900 per vehicle
The agency issued its requirements for snowmobile manufacturers in the fall of 2002, allowing them 10 years to produce the cleaner machines. Manufacturers said they would have to replace the dirty, carburetor-driven two-stroke engines with four-stroke engines or direct-injection two-stroke engines to meet the tougher emission rules.

Even with some models exempt from the rule, the changes were predicted to cost the industry $900 per snowmobile, according to EPA and industry estimates.

The EPA in its rule agreed with industry that it would be too costly to apply the technology to all varieties of snowmobile models on the market.

Tuesday’s court decision was written by Judge Harry T. Edward. The other panel members were Judges David B. Sentelle and David S. Tatel.

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