Snowmobile Maker Revs-Up Cleaner Machines


Snowmobiling is big business in the Great Lakes. So recent efforts toban snowmobiles from national parks, in part because of the pollutionthey create, have found very vocal critics in the region. A recentlyfiled lawsuit is challenging the ban. While that case makes its waythrough the courts, one snowmobile manufacturer has begun production ona machine it says addresses the problem of pollution, as well as noise. Arctic Cat says the machine is quieter and cleaner, and willrevolutionize the industry. However, environmentalists describe the newsnowmobile as nothing more than window dressing. They say the machineis simply designed to convince the government to lift their park ban. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson reports:

Transcript

Snowmobiling is big business in the Great Lakes. So recent efforts to ban snowmobiles
from national parks, in part because of the pollution they create, have found very vocal
critics in the region. A recently filed lawsuit is challenging the ban. While that case
makes its way through the courts, one snowmobile manufacturer has begun production
on a machine it says addresses the problem of pollution, as well as noise. Arctic Cat says
the machine is quieter and cleaner, and will revolutionize the industry. However,
environmentalists describe the new snowmobile as nothing more than window dressing,
and they say the machine is simply designed to convince the government to lift their park
ban. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Dan Gunderson reports:


When Arctic Cat recently unveiled its new sled, CEO Chris Twomey and several hundred
employees wore green t-shirts to symbolize what they say is the company’s
environmental commitment.
The assembly line at the Thief River Falls Minnesota plant stopped as workers gathered
around one of the new four stroke machines.


“Here we go quiet everybody. (machine starting) terrific job everbody
applause fades.”


The employees provided an enthusiastic audience for Ed Klim, President of Michigan
based International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the group that is suing the
National Park Service to stop the proposed snowmobile ban.


“I don’t have to tell you that recently we’ve been attacked by some
naysayers and extremists that are loose with the facts. They use fuzzy math.”


Klim says it’s time for environmentalists to stop opposing snowmobiles and start working
with the industry.


“I say the naysayers and extremists have cried foul long enough. (applause)
It’s time for the extremists to stop the shrill and come here and discover what the
snowmobile industry has accomplished and what the industry is developing for the
future.”


The snowmobile industry is under criticism from environmental groups and government
agencies for building machines that produce high noise levels and air pollution. However,
because there are no federal regulations or testing, each side produces its own statistics to
support its views.


But Arctic Cat CEO Chris Twomey insists this new machine is in response to customer
demands, not environmentalists or the government.


“If we were only doing this in response to the government. We wouldn’t
have done anything yet since the government hasn’t told us what it wants.”


The federal government is still working to develop emission and noise regulations for
snowmobiles, but it may be several years before standards are in place.
Twomey predicts the new sled will meet those regulations, and he says snowmobiles will
only get cleaner and quieter.


He eagerly demonstrates the new technology on the snow covered front lawn just outside
his office. First a standard two stroke engine which burns a mixture of gas and oil and
emits a cloud of blue smoke.


Then the new four stroke machine which burns gasoline like an automobile engine and
produces no noticeable exhaust


While the company insists the new machines are aimed at individual customers, the first
50 produced were shipped to Yellowstone Park.


Twomey says he doesn’t know if the new machines will change the minds of government
officials, or environmental groups. But he argues an outright snowmobile ban in National
Parks is unfair.


“Should there be reasonable restrictions? Absolutely. Should people be
allowed to denigrate the park in any way? No, but you can’t use phony statistics and
scare tactics to stop a whole group of people who want to use the park in a
reasonable way.”


Meanwhile, the new snowmobile gets no praise from Jon Catton. He’s spokesman for the
Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a Montana conservation group.


“It is not enough to go from an outrageously polluting machine to a
horrendously polluting machine. And we should not in that kind of a transition start
adopting terms like cleaner or certainly clean machine, when the snowmobiles
Arctic Cat is producing are anything but.”


Catton says his group and others will continue to fight allowing any snowmobile use in
National Parks.


The snowmobile industry may also face an uphill battle with the Federal government. A
Park Service official says a cleaner, quieter sled will not automatically get the
government’s blessing.


But the snowmobile industry recently won a temporary victory when Congress ordered
the National Park Service to delay the rulemaking process for restricting snowmobile use
in parks.


Arctic Cat CEO Chris Twomey meanwhile, says whatever the long term outcome of that
dispute, his company will continue moving ahead with development of cleaner ,quieter
machines. He expects the new sleds to take over about 30 percent of the U.S. snowmobile
market. For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Dan Gunderson.