California Bowen Bill

First Posted 11 May 1998


The state of California is considering banning the use of 2-stroke engines (above 10 horsepower that discharge unburned fuel or oil as a function of their design) in lakes or reservoirs used to supply drinking water. The bill also initially banned retail sales of all 2 stroke marine engines that discharge unburned fuel or oil as a function of their design after January 1, 1999. The Bowen Bill has gone though committee and will now be voted on by the Assembly.

21 May Amendments make the Bowen bill much more palatable. The bill was ammended in such a manner the only "bite" on the industry is ," On and after January 1, 2002, no person shall sell or offer for sale at retail in this state any new two-stroke marine engine that discharges unburned fuel or oil as a function of its design."

The bill now only applies to the sale of new motors and does not take effect until 2002. No banning of existing units was included in the bill, the retail sales effectivity date was pushed back 3 years, and the bill will still allow retail sales of used 2-and the bill will still allow retail sales of used 2-strokes.

The bill is still in the Assembly. Wednesday 27 May, Opposition to the bill is being led by Bernie Richter from District 3. If the bill is to stay alive, the Assembly must pass it by Friday May 29th.

Perhaps in our favor, California has a major election Tuesday June 2nd. Legislators do not like to "roll call vote" on a hot issue immediately before an election. Regardless of the outcome of this bill, the battle is far from over. Several California communities are already proposing legislation their region.

Tues May 26: Assembly woman Bowen "passed on file" meaning she did not want the bill brought up that day (she probably did not think she had enough votes to pass it).

Wed 27 May: Assembly woman Bowen moved the bill to the inactive file and indicated she intended to remove it from the inactive file. (Probably a "rules move" to help keep it alive.)

Thurs 28 May: Late in afternoon, Assembly woman Bowen informs Assembly man Richter she will not be bringing the bill back tomorrow. The bill has been defeated.



INTRODUCED BY   Assembly Member Bowen

                        FEBRUARY 20, 1998

   An act to  amend Section 115825 of the Health and Safety
Code, and to  add Section 654.3 to the Harbors and
Navigation Code, relating to water supplies.


   AB 2439, as amended, Bowen.  Water supplies:  discharges. 

   Existing law permits water agencies, as defined, to construct and
operate recreational facilities appurtenant to any lands, dams,
reservoirs, facilities, or works owned or operated by the agency.
   Existing law makes it unlawful to deposit, permit to pass into, or
place where it can pass into the waters of the state any petroleum
or residuary product of petroleum, among other things. 
   This bill would  provide that, commencing June 1, 2004,
recreational uses, with respect to a lake or reservoir that is part
of a public drinking water system or that has a designated beneficial
use as a municipal water supply, shall not include the operation of
watercraft propelled by a 2-stroke engine that discharges unburned
fuel or oil as a function of its design, with exceptions for engines
with a power rating of 10 horsepower or less or for certain emergency
response activity.  The bill would also  prohibit selling
or offering to sell in this state, at retail, on or after January 1,
 1999   2002  , any  new  2-stroke
marine engine that discharges unburned fuel or oil as a function of
its design.
   Vote:  majority.  Appropriation:  no.  Fiscal committee:  no.
State-mandated local program:  no.


  SECTION 1.  The Legislature finds and declares all of the
   (a) According to the United States Environmental Protection
Agency, a conventional two-stroke marine engine discharges
approximately 25 percent of its fuel, unburned, during the normal
course of operation.  As a result, a two-stroke marine engine can
emit a significant quantity of toxic constituents of gasoline and oil
into the water and air, including, 1,3-butadiene, benzene, toluene,
xylene, methyl tertiary butyl ether, and polycyclic aromatic
   (b) The cumulative discharge of fuel and exhaust from two-stroke
marine engines represents one of the state's most significant sources
of toxic water pollution and accounts for approximately 30 percent
of the total hydrocarbon emissions from nonroad sources.
   (c) Unburned gasoline and oil discharged from two-stroke marine
engines contain chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or
reproductive toxicity, including, 1,3-butadiene, benzene, and
toluene.  Section 25249.5 of the Health and Safety Code (Proposition
65, November 4, 1986, general election) generally prohibits knowingly
discharging or releasing chemicals known to cause cancer or
reproductive toxicity into water or onto or into land where those
chemicals pass or probably will pass into any source of drinking
   (d) Unburned gasoline and oil discharged from marine engines are
petroleum products.  Section 5650 of the Fish and Game Code generally
prohibits depositing in, permitting to pass into, or placing where
it can pass into the waters of this state any petroleum.
   (e) Significant levels of fuel pollution from the operation of
marine engines should be considered the same as equivalent levels of
pollution from other sources with respect to the enforcement of
public health and environmental protection laws and regulations.
   (f) Due to the state's reliance on lakes and reservoirs for
drinking water storage and the relatively high levels of recreational
boating on those lakes and reservoirs, the discharge of fuel from
two-stroke marine engines poses a particular threat to the quality of
drinking water supplies.
   (g) Commercially available marine engine technologies have
achieved a decrease in hydrocarbon emissions of as much as 99 percent
compared to conventional two-stroke engines, with a corresponding
decrease in both fuel cost and consumption, as well as a significant
reduction in the threat to drinking water supplies and the marine
   (h) In order to ensure the continued compatibility of drinking
water with motorized boating and other recreational uses, it shall be
the policy of the state to encourage the development and use of the
cleanest available marine engine technologies on lakes and reservoirs
that serve as domestic water supplies.  
  SEC. 2.  Section 115825 of the Health and Safety Code is amended to
   115825.  (a) It is hereby declared to be the policy of this state
that multiple use should be made of all public water within the
state, to the extent that multiple use is consistent with public
health and public safety.
   (b) Commencing June 1, 2004, recreational uses shall not, with
respect to a lake or reservoir that is part of a public drinking
water system or that has a designated beneficial use as a municipal
water supply in the applicable water quality control plan adopted
pursuant to Division 7 (commencing with Section 13000) of the Water
Code, include the operation of watercraft propelled by a two-stroke
engine that discharges unburned fuel or oil as a function of its
design, except with regard to the following:
   (1) The operation of watercraft propelled by a two-stroke engine
with a power rating of 10 horsepower or less.
   (2) The operation of watercraft propelled by a two-stroke engine
for any search, rescue, lifesaving, or other emergency response
activity conducted by a public agency or authorized private entity
when no appropriate watercraft that complies with this subdivision is
readily available.
   (c) Except as provided in Sections 115840 and 115841, recreational
uses shall not, with respect to a reservoir in which water is stored
for domestic use, include recreation in which there is bodily
contact with the water by any participant.
  SEC. 3.  
  SEC. 2.   Section 654.3 is added to the Harbors and Navigation
Code, to read:
   654.3.  On and after January 1,  1999,  
2002,  no person shall sell or offer for sale at retail in this
state any  new  two-stroke marine engine that discharges
unburned fuel or oil as a function of its design.

RBBI Comments

The gasoline additive MTBE (Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether) is suspected of being a health hazard to humans. MTBE is utilized as a gasoline additive to help the fuel burn more cleanly. It is highly concentrated in a specific blend of gas used in California (California Phase II gas) and represents about 15% of the volume of the fuel. MTBE has a half-life of about 3 to 4 days in the air, an estimated half-life of hours to days in flowing surface water, and an estimated half-life of days to weeks in undisturbed surface water.

Testing done by the state of California indicates a major source of MTBE in drinking water may be two-stroke outboard engine exhaust. Further research is being done on the risks of MTBE and the MTBE contribution of two-stroke outboard engine exhaust to drinking water. It has been suggested that MTBE might be banned. Achieving a "clean burn" with other approaches is being investigated. Assemblywoman Bowen drafted a bill to ban larger two-stroke outboard from lakes and reservoirs used to supply drinking water. Ms. Bowen feels that banning outboards would accomplish the goal of eliminating the MTBE being contributed by outboard exhaust, plus also reduce other emissions known to come from two-stroke outboards.

While our initial paragraph talks about MTBE being suspected of being a health hazard and how two-stroke outboard engine exhaust may be a major source of MTBE in drinking water, we used the italics to indicate the testing has not been conclusive. The preliminary testing of MTBE on mice and the lake and reservoir testing after high use periods (4th of July weekends) indicates that MTBE will probably prove to be a human health hazard and that its presence in drinking water will be found to be related to two-stroke outboard engine exhausts. I am merely pointing out that the investigation is still continuing and on rare occasions investigations of this nature will prove the opposite of the early studies. If MTBE is established as a human health hazard, then the level of exposure required to cause health problems must be determined. That level may be far above the level seen after high outboard use days, or perhaps some existing or new process can be used to easily and economically remove MTBE from drinking water. There are still a lot of unknowns.

Research on the unanswered questions needs to proceed as rapidly as possible, both short range and long range solutions need to be identified, and very serious concern needs to be given to applying short term solutions until the research has been completed.

The Bowen bill focuses on outboards greater than 10 horsepower. It is possible that banning two-stroke outboards over 10 horsepower, might not solve the problem if most of the MTBE is being contributed by the smaller outboards or from fuel spills coming from the larger boats and marinas.

I suggest "brainstorming session" by the groups involved generate several alternatives in addition to the Bowen Bill. Some that come rapidly to mind are:

Some concerns have been voiced about how specific drinking water supply reservoirs and lakes might be identified. Many of the various lakes and reservoirs are connected and a very strict interpretation could include a large number of facilities. Also, some concerns have been raised about the legality of banning certain used of federally funded or operated lakes and reservoirs.

The list of groups in support of the bill is a bit humorous. The Supporters Group, in addition to including the traditional environmental support groups, includes a number of groups who are in "recreational conflict" with boaters. The American Canoe Assoc., American Whitewater, Animal Legal Defense Fund, International Marine Mammal Project, Surfers Tired of Pollution and Federation of Flyfishers are groups of canoeists, rafters, marine mammal supporters, surfers, and flyfishers who all wish boaters would just go away so they could enjoy their activity or feel their cause would be bettered if all power boats were banned. They most certainly have a right to their beliefs, but their opposition has nothing to do with two-stroke exhaust, they just want to get rid of motor boats.

The Opposition side of the list looks really weak! The NMMA and a motorcycle dealer group. Surely you guys can do better than that! I suggest you immediately get your various organizations registered in opposition to the bill.

In California a bill must first pass one house (it is now in the Assembly) and then the second (the Senate) and then be signed by the governor. The bill still has quite a ways to go, but do to its potential major impact on the industry, now is the time to react and register your input. The further a bill goes, the more difficult it is to stop.

California has long been known for establishing very tough emission laws. Several times they have passed strict emission laws and then later rescinded them by either reducing the restrictions or by giving companies longer to come into compliance. The period between the passing and rescinding of a bill is very expensive and traumatic to manufacturers and should be avoided at all costs. Also, California emission regulations are often used as a model by other states. If major changes (ban the sale of two-stroke outboards) occur there, those same changes will soon be considered in other states. The MTBE problem results from a special California blend of gasoline and MTBE should not be the purpose of outboard bans in other states.

If you live in California we strongly encourage you to write your assembly person ( and make your views known. If you do not live in California, contact your friends and relatives there, make sure they are aware of the situation and encourage them to write their assembly person. Manufacturers and organizations should register their support or opposition to the bill.

It is our hope that all involved can work together to rapidly determine the exact risks of MTBE, the contribution of MTBE by two-stroke outboard exhaust, and the best way to balance the health risk of MTBE exposure with the need for water recreation.

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