Sierra Club logo    

Planet Main
In This Section
  November 2001 Features:
Arsenic and Old Rules
Investing in the Environment
Protecting the Wildlands of Lewis and Clark
Speaking for the Hills . . . and Valleys
Volunteer Award-Winners
From the President
Natural Resources
Who We Are
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
Back Issues

The Planet

Tell EPA: Revoke the Two-Stroke

New regulations fail to account for noise pollution or eliminate the dirty two-stroke engine

By Ted Conwell and Sarah Wootton

Next time someone all bundled up in winter clothes comes zooming across a snowfield on a snowmobile, consider this: The vehicle probably has a two-stroke engine and is dumping nearly one-third of its fuel right into the environment.

An automobile would have to drive 100,000 miles to produce the same amount of smog-forming pollutants as a two-stroke engine does in seven hours, according to the California Air Resources Board.

The fact that there are no plans to phase out two-stroke engines is a major flaw in a proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulation, according to Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program.

The proposed regulation is one in a series being issued by the EPA in response to a Sierra Club lawsuit settled in 1993 over the agency's neglect of Section 213 of the Clean Air Act. It will affect snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles, dirtbikes, inboard motor boats, and small industrial and airport equipment.

The Natural Trails and Waters Coalition (a collection of conservation groups including the Sierra Club), opposes the regulation not just because it continues to allow destructive two-stroke engines, but because it lacks requirements for consumer education on engine emissions and fails to address noise levels.

To individual vehicle users, two-stroke engines pose significant health risks from carbon monoxide, benzene and other toxins. The coalition members recommend a regulation that includes individual engine emission caps, which would protect human health and encourage manufacturers to build safer, less-polluting four-stroke engines.

Engine emissions labels on marine engines sold in California aid consumers in purchases by rating emissions on certain machines in categories, including "low," "very low" and "ultra low." Not surprisingly, trends show that some California buyers opt for a certain engine because of lower emissions, according to Hopkins. Coalition members would like the EPA to require manufacturers to display emission levels on all engines for sale nationwide.

The proposed regulation also fails to consider noise pollution. (The EPA claims budgetary constraints forced the omission.) Studies of snowmobile use on public lands show that noise pollution adversely affects humans as well as wildlife such as the wolverine and lynx.

"The EPA has a long way to go to improve this regulation before the Sierra Club and the Natural Trails and Waters Coalition will sign on," said Hopkins. "To start, it has to phase out two-stroke engines. To let such archaic technology continue polluting when much more cost-effective and environmentally sound engines exist is just plain bad decision-making."

Take Action:
By Dec. 19, tell the EPA that you support stricter regulations that would phase out two-stroke engines, require emissions labeling for engines and address noise pollution. Send comments to Margaret Borushko (Docket No. A-2000-01), USEPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality, 2000 Traverwood Dr., Ann Arbor, Mich. 48105. You may also submit comments by e-mail to

See additional information and a sample letter. For more information on the proposed regulation, go to:

Cranberries Damage New Jersey Bogs

By Jenny Coyle

CranberriesThe cranberry - that tart red orb of native fruit - is pretty on the table at winter holiday feasts. But the plant is a blight on the New Jersey landscape, where its cultivation on industrial farms leads to the systematic destruction of wetlands and pollution of waterways.

New Jersey - along with Wisconsin and Massachusetts - is one of the nation's top cranberry-growing states, and all of its cranberry farms lie within the Pinelands National Reserve.

The Pinelands, the country's first national reserve, encompasses more than 1 million acres of forests, wetlands and farms, as well as 56 communities with 700,000 residents. Recognized as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, it is home to 14 endangered animals and plants found nowhere else in the world, including a species of the carnivorous pitcher plant.

To create the bogs required to grow cranberries, farmers clearcut the reserve's unique forested wetlands of pine and white cedar, burn out the roots and then create a system of dikes, ditches and control gates. If the water around the plants reaches 92 degrees, the water is pumped out and replaced with cooler groundwater. The discarded water - laced with fertilizers and pesticides - empties into nearby waterways. At harvest time, the beds are flooded and the cranberries, which float, are scooped from the surface.

The Pinelands management plan "grandfathers" existing cranberry operations as an indigenous historic use in the reserve, but New Jersey activists say that decisions made by the state promote expansion and wetlands destruction.

For instance, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently adopted a "general permit" that allows cranberry farmers to expand their fields by 10 acres per year for five years - without review. That will eventually add up to the destruction of 300 acres.

The Sierra Club has sued the state over the permit, in part because it violates state wetlands and water-quality laws, said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Chapter director.

"The farms don't have to demonstrate the need to expand, even though the cranberry industry in recent years has experienced its worst oversupply in history," Tittel said. "And instead of requiring private industry to mitigate the loss of wetlands, taxpayers bear this burden by paying for a small-scale Atlantic white cedar restoration program - not nearly enough to offset the habitat lost each year."

Take Action:
Write to New Jersey Gov. Donald DiFrancesco and ask him to rescind the general permit rule that allows farmers to destroy 10 acres of wetland forest each year for five years. Remind him that the Pineland National Reserve is valuable to all Americans - and to all people of the world as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve. Write Gov. DiFrancesco, 125 W. State St., P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625.

Mother and Child Reunion

Mother and ChildHeeding the call of a loon, New York mother-daughter team Laura and Bobbie Josepher paddled their canoe through the early morning mist on Lobster Lake, the site of the Women's Voices for the Environment Encampment in August. The annual event held by the Sierra Club's Maine Chapter offers a chance for women from around the country to connect with the environment and renew a spirit of activism. Lobster Lake is in the heart of the North Woods, and chapter member Barbara Winterson gave a talk around the campfire one night about efforts to protect the area.

To learn more about the chapter's work to preserve Maine's North Woods, visit the chapter Web site at or contact Barbara Winterson at

Photos: snowmobilers courtesy Wilderness Society, cranberries courtesy USDA, canoeists courtesy Annette Souder

Up to Top