Small engine emissions laws – what’s the news?

You have probably read about the planned emissions standards for small engines from lawn mowers to outboards, and chainsaws to olive shakers. We have all heard it is coming but have not had much news since January.

Well it’s a bit like the picture of the duck on the pond – you can’t see much happening but there is furious paddling below the surface. Let me give you just one example.
Under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997, goods that are imported into New Zealand and can legally be sold there, can lawfully be sold in Australia, even though the machine would not meet the regulatory standards of Australia. It is all a part of the CER trade treaty with NZ. The Kiwis don’t yet plan on having standards.
There is a process to close the loophole with an exemption, and it all takes time.
The long road to emissions standards has taken eleven years because frankly, our industry does not have the same priority as say, blackouts in South Australia. No doubt our laws are still struggling for priority and being pushed aside when it comes to legal drafting resources and Parliament’s calendar.
I had predicted by now that we should have seen an exposure draft of the legislation, for comment, before it goes to Parliament. It’s looking more and more likely that we won’t have the opportunity to review the final draft.
Last time I spoke to Canberra the Department insisted that the timetable had been announced (“laws by August”) and they were determined to meet that schedule. With the Federal Budget coming 9 May, as well as a six week winter break, August is already very tight; so tight that it won’t leave time for broad industry consultation in April. After eleven years it is a huge pity the industry may not get a final say (the last public consultation was in 2010).
No one should be too worried about the outline of the laws – it’s the devil in the detail that worries me the most. The broad rules have already been spelled out:

  • Exhaust emissions standards mirroring the current USA EPA standards
    – For ground supported machines, only four strokes will meet the standard
    – For handheld equipment like chainsaws, a softer standard allowing better quality two  strokes to be imported
  • Evaporative (fuel tanks, lines etc.) pushed back for reconsideration in 2019
  • Start date 1 July 2018 (imports cease)
    – With 12 months for importers/ dealers to sell stock (1 July 2019) before it must be destroyed or re-exported
  • Enforcing the laws and getting through Customs is based on Compliance Labelling and Certification
    – No paperwork = no import (which will make personal imports and on line sales much more challenging)
    – USA EPA certification – accepted and will be 90 per cent of imports
    – EU certification – accepted, with EU Harmonizing to the US standards in 2019
    – Australian certification is an option, though finding a qualified lab in Australia will be a challenge

In talking with industry, I have found that it is the last bullet point that causes the most confusion. If you have the world’s cleanest engine, including test results, it still won’t make it through Customs. The law will be set up so a Customs (Australian Border Force) officer can look at the paperwork and the certification, match it to the carton and tick – you’re in. Customs or even the Department of Environment won’t be testing machines, only paperwork, at least in the first instance.
That is why it is vital for importers to change over their engines now.
It will take some talking to overseas suppliers to understand that what Australian importers need is the engine they use now, but not the international variant. Not one that is ‘just as clean’ but we need the identical product as sold in Texas, with the USEPA label. And while you are
at it, attach the USA EPA certificate to the shipping documents.
Sometimes that will need cooperation with the factory overseas and the company branch in the USA who hold the certificates. Getting this all together could take many months to get right, so please start today. Seriously, go send an email now!
If you need help to explain all of this to an overseas factory, then we have provided a free service for a few companies already and are happy to help yours. Just contact me via Power Equipment Australasia ( to make arrangements.

Gary FooksGary Fooks
Gary is Chair of the Blue Sky Alliance; a collaboration between the OPEA and the marine engine sector. Gary has been working on small engine emissions standards since 2005 and was announced as the Environment Minister’s Clean Air Champion in 2015.