"There are too many people who would just as soon never see another boat on the water. they don't understand them, and they don't like them, and we've got to work together."
Monita Fontaine takes boating personally. She should. She’s not just a government relations expert; she’s a boating enthusiast.
She bought her 34-foot mahogany sloop in England. She named it Hither, Thither, and Gone. And she’s spent her life since giving new meaning to that name. There were two years of exploring in the Mediterranean Sea. There was the all-women crew she assembled before crossing the Atlantic. Then there were another two years spent exploring in the Caribbean Islands. She still finds herself boating from time to time, but she spends most of her awake hours making boating better for everyone.
So when someone outside the boating industry tries to restrict the NMMA’s vice president of Government Relations’ access rights, you can imagine she takes that personally, too.
“If you have a passion for your sport, your recreation, your lifestyle, you can indeed take it personally,” she says. “I’m sure I have. I can’t abide the ignorance.”
Oh, and there seems to be plenty of ignorance to deal with when it comes to governmental affairs related to the boating industry. Especially when it comes to environmental concerns. These days, when the eyes and ears of every special interest group, every court of law, and every branch of the local, state and national governments are seemingly focused on environmental concerns, access rights are being threatened from every angle.
In Florida some want to halt the addition of marinas to its coast lines and force boaters to adhere to no-wake zones in expansive recreational areas. The National Parks and National Seashores have banned personal watercraft in many of its waterways. State and local governments can make decisions that will affect boaters forever. Non-native fish species are having a negative impact on many fishing communities. And some extreme environmentalists want nothing more than to point the finger at boaters and continue the restrictions.
The outcome of these environmental battles affects everybody in the marine industry, from OEM officials to dealers to marina operators. Therefore, it’s fortunate for the boating community that a serious boater has found her way to the front of the environmental battle and has taken charge of monitoring all of these factors. And it’s fortunate that she packs a lot of common sense to fend off that ignorance.
“There are too many people who would just as soon never see another boat on the water,” she says. “They don’t understand them, and they don’t like them, and we’ve got to work together.”
Concerns From All Angles
For as many anti-boaters as there are, there are just as many boaters and boating industry members who care for the environment, Fontaine says. And she and the NMMA Director of Environmental and Safety Compliance John McKnight, the boating community has stepped up to meet the challenges.
The environmental issues are far too vast to confront thoroughly in one, easy-to-follow package of information. The umbrella over environmental issues could start with the Wallop-Breaux fund, which was tentatively set up for allocation back in late January, and it could expand over the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), manatees, boat building technologies, access rights at every lake, river and ocean launch ramp, the Clean Vessel Act, fish restoration, wetlands, dredging, invasive species, and legislation facing the marinas and boat yards. Both Fontaine and McKnight admit that there are myriad issues that affect and are affected by the boating industry.
There are two umbrellas, however, under which most environmental issues can be categorized. McKnight says they can be broken down into mobile sources and stationary sources.
Mobile sources include engine emissions, the most well-known of the environmental concerns, and they also include other engine-related concerns such as evaporative emissions from the likes of fuel hoses, fuel tanks and ventilation sources.
Stationary sources are manufacturing plant issues, which mostly center around boat builder MACTs, or Maximum Achievable Control Technologies. These include National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP), which McKnight considers “mini” MACTs, such as those governing engine test cells and the regulation of the amount of HAPs in adhesives, caulks, sealants and paints used on plastic and metal parts in manufacturing processes.
The acronyms alone are enough to make one’s head spin, but both McKnight and Fontaine remain adamant that the boating industry is responding to every challenge.
“I have nothing but the highest praise for the effort that the engine manufacturers have undertaken to accelerate their technological advances and provide very clean and quiet engines,” Fontaine says. “It’s something we should be truly proud of. [They] are companies that have committed to preserving the quality of the air and the water and the soundscape. And these boat building companies have moved forward very rapidly in terms of the actual boat building techniques that they are using.”
“There have been huge reductions [in emissions] when we look at new engine technology,” McKnight concurs. “It’s been unprecedented in any industry. Just taking transfer technology and applying it to a marine environment is huge as far as the investment and the benefits that we have seen as far as for the consumer and the environment.
“The technological advances are in the pipe, and there’s really nothing stopping them. Decisions that are being made by facilities that 10 or 15 years ago didn’t consider the environmental implications, now [they] primarily have to take the environmental considerations as one of their No. 1 priorities.”
If there is one major topic that comes to mind when boating and the environment are brought up, it’s that of engine emissions. It’s quite possibly the most far-reaching factor affecting the environment.
Engine emissions have been cause for concern for many years. The automotive industry has gone through it. California, with its Air Resources Board, has taken a magnifying lens to all gas-powered engines in an effort to cut back on air pollution. Most recently, the marine industry has come under close scrutiny.
“Every pound of emissions that you put into the air, you have a permit from the government to do that,” explains McKnight. “And if you put too much in the air over your permit, then you’re facing a liability — a huge liability at times. So there’s a lot of pressure on these people to do this.
“And by the way, they have to make boats, too. And sell them.”
In order to sell them, and in particular sell them in California right now, there are a number of environmental credentials engine and boat manufacturers must first receive. Most prominent among those are the star ratings that are becoming increasingly familiar.
CARB has associated a star rating for levels of environmental cleanliness among engines. Many new two-stroke fuel injected and four-stroke engines have been rewarded with a star-rating sticker. The more stars, the lower the emissions level. It’s become a selling point, but the reward of a high rating hasn’t come without great efforts.
The EPA has set engine cleanliness standards for the manufacturing year 2006. Because of higher levels of use and higher levels of emissions causing a higher amount of air pollutants in its home state, CARB has accelerated its standards for years 2004, 2006 and 2008.
“Not only do [boat and engine builders] have to maintain superb quality so they satisfy the consumers,” McKnight says, “but they also have to meet these stringent, ever-changing regulations that are being enforced by EPA and CARB.”
A two-star rating from CARB (like the image you see at right), or very low emissions for outboards and personal watercraft, means the engines meet guidelines for the 2004 production year; three stars, or ultra low emissions, mean the engine meets guidelines for the 2008 production year.
These ever-changing regulations may be altered again in the near future. This May the NMMA, in conjunction with CARB, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, Texas, will be testing the feasibility of marine catalyst survival in sterndrive and inboard engines. There was an interim rule for inboards and sterndrives that said manufacturers had to meet a baseline, average 16 g/kwh HC + NOx. This lower level of emissions grants the manufacturer a three-star rating, a label they are required to affix on the vessel. If the catalysts are proven to work in both fresh and saltwater applications, the interim rule ends, and manufacturers must meet 5 g/kwh for 2007. This will constitute a four-star rating.
If the catalysts prove feasible, the EPA may revisit its 2006 requirements for outboards and personal watercraft.
Monitoring The Flow
As if state and local governments, with their quick turnaround on legislation, aren’t difficult enough to deal with, consider that boating itself is affected by no less than nine federal agencies and all the congressional committees that oversee those agencies.
It’s hard enough when Lake X in northern Minnesota wants to ban boats with motors, but when the Department of the Interior with its National Parks and National Seashores jurisdiction looks to spread a similar ban throughout the U.S., it could spell catastrophe for the boating community.
That’s why the NMMA’s Government Relations department has monitoring systems throughout every branch of government. With state-of-the-art technology for tracking legislation and many different methods of building “a tapestry of timely information,” Fontaine’s staff and its reach stretches across the country.
“We have access issues that are omnipresent,” Fontaine says. “The National Parks closed out personal watercraft in some [parks]. So too, it’s expanding to certain engine types. It’s expanding to banning recreational fishing.
“On all fronts, we are finding that access to our public waters is being threatened. This is sort of the proliferation of regulations in terms of hours of operation, days of the week, speed limits. In other words, too often when people are faced with a management situation, they revert to some simple regulation rather than looking at the broader picture of how to manage our waterways with mutual uses.”
If you think Fontaine’s job is tough now, you’re right. But it may have been tougher last year when she was working hard to defend boating’s perceived bad boy as the executive director of NMMA’s affiliate, the Personal Watercraft Industry Association.
Personal watercraft have long been the target for environmental legislation. First, they were chastised for their annoying, sometimes reckless use — something the operators could have squelched with a little responsibility. Then the high-pitched whine of old model watercraft were targeted — something the manufacturers quickly worked to reverse.
Soon, one localized ban of watercraft led to another, though, and the PWIA was fighting tooth and nail to hold on to such waters as those in National Parks and along National Seashores. The negative publicity spread like a disease as PWC sales plummeted from 200,000 units in 1995 to less than 80,000 just eight years later.
The shocking part of it was that some members of the traditional boating community sat back and watched as PWC were restricted off one body of water after the next. One CEO even stepped out and announced his agreement with proposed legislation against PWC.
No one seemed to realize, however, that the extreme environmental groups were just picking away at the weakest member of the family, and their sights would soon turn to traditional boats. Victories in mainstream boating, extremists believe, would be much easier once personal watercraft — with similar engine technologies and similar noise levels — were deemed too dirty or too noisy for certain bodies of water. It may be only a matter of time before legislatures can draw the parallel.
“That’s their modus operandi,” Fontaine says. “Pick off the small group and then amend the language to include the broader group. It’s easy to amend something once you’ve got it on the books. Too often people thought that they’d stop with whatever group they were trying to restrict.
“But once they’ve taken blood, they keep on going. It becomes a self-sustaining industry with its only function to restrict and regulate, and that’s all they know how to do. They really don’t know how to solve problems. I haven’t really seen any of these fringe groups develop a wonderful safety device or introduce new technology or figure out how to solve a problem. All they know how to do is deny access.”
The personal watercraft industry has solved problems. Sound levels have been reduced by more than 75 percent in some cases. Four-stroke motors have been introduced by every PWC manufacturer, and direct fuel injection has been on the market since 1999. Each of the manufacturers have addressed safety concerns with off-throttle steering solutions, as well.
The problems are being solved, but the damage may already have been done. And there may be repercussions the boating industry hasn’t even seen yet.
“If it befalls one hull type,” Fontaine says, “it is just down the line before it falls on the broader boating community.”
Fronting the battle can be a difficult responsibility. The monitoring is difficult enough, but taking action against some of the most diehard, well-funded individuals and organizations can be downright daunting. Winning those battles can seem impossible.
Both Fontaine and McKnight admitted, however, that the efforts the boating industry is making have carved much progress on the environmental front.
“We have done a great deal, as an industry, in terms of addressing so many of the environmental concerns,” Fontaine says, “particularly with regard to the engines and the new technology that the engine companies have been so good about working toward developing — both the two-stroke direct injection and the four-stroke engines.
“They are building better quality boats that are safer, that are more sea worthy, and that are more affordable for the American family.”
McKnight agrees and draws a telling comparison.
“These guys are more than meeting the challenge,” he says. “I don’t think people realize how phenomenal it is. This is not the auto industry where you have 17 million cars a year. With sterndrive/inboard catalysts, we’re talking about 100,000 engines. We have all these companies chasing the same dollar.”
In the grand scheme of the boating industry, environmental concerns can seem small. As Fontaine says, boating is a microcosm of so many things that are broader. So many factors influence and are influenced by the boating community.
“It touches everything,” Fontaine summarizes. “It’s captivating. It’s interesting. And it’s difficult.
“We cannot allow any part of our boating community to be jeopardized. We must all stand together.”
In a Nut Shell
There are myriad environmental issues that boating is, has or will be facing. Here’s a quick overview.
Evaporative Emissions: There are three main areas here: fuel hoses, fuel tank permeation, and diurnal losses. There have been many technologies proposed for reducing emissions in these areas, and the NMMA has submitted written comments and conducted oral testimony about them.
Regulation of diurnal losses, or emissions through vents, are on hold because the EPA is proposing pressurized fuel tanks. The EPA is recommending sulfonation or fluorination, and the possibility of alternate materials could be explored. The NMMA agrees to the idea of sulfonation, provided it’s a design-based standard, and the association’s major concerns with it address the durability of the process.
Some companies are taking the lead with the fuel hoses. McKnight says the NMMA doesn’t see a lot of issues with meeting what the EPA is proposing, and there have been alternative proposals that seem more feasible.
Closed Molding: “In many cases, closed molding has taken off,” McKnight says. “We lobbied for an inclusion of closed molding in MACT, so that we could average against existing sources. The plan was to put in closed molding and they could perhaps save some money initially by continuing to use existing equipment and existing materials and average the reductions that were gained through closed molding against existing operations.
“The problem with it is that the formula developed by Congress does not allow the technology to become a MACT technology unless it’s applicable to all products in the industry.”
The debate continues and even McKnight chose not to take sides in it. No one doubts the environmental benefit, but the cost of implementing the procedure can be overwhelming.
“When the rule was written, the closed-molding process certainly had not matured
to the point where it was applicable to building all boats,” he says. “If closed molding would have been recognized as applicable,
it would have been what is called ‘new source MACT,’ which is the best-of-the-best technology. That meant anyone who built a new plant, whether it was a guy with a spray gun, a drum, and a dream, would have had to build it closed molding.
“That huge, capital cost would have severely prejudiced small businesses. Where [the debate] is now has become kind of politicized.”