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California pulls the plug on gas-powered leaf blowers under new law

Legislation targets sales of new 'small off-road engine' equipment

A gas-powered leaf blower, lawnmower and other tools used by a gardening crew sit in the back of a pickup truck in Palo Alto. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Nearly three decades after Peninsula cities began implementing bans on gas-powered leaf blowers, the effort has found a foothold at the state level, with Gov. Gavin Newsom signing a bill on Oct. 9 that will phase out their sales.

Among the dozens of bills that Newsom signed in his final action of the legislative session is Assembly Bill 1346, which was authored by Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, and which directs the California Air Resources Board to adopt regulations by July 2022 that would prohibit new "small off-road engines" — a category that includes gas-powered leaf blowers, generators, pressure washers and chainsaws — by 2024.

In making the case for the bill, Berman cited their environmental impact. In a June speech on the floor of the Assembly, he noted that daily emissions of air pollution from small engines are projected to surpass those from passenger cars this year.

"These emissions worsen air quality and negatively impact human health, causing asthma and lung disease and other awful health impacts on landscaping professionals who breathe in exhaust day in and day out," Berman said.

For cities like Palo Alto, Los Altos and Menlo Park — all of which are in Berman's district — a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers is far from new. Los Altos banned them in 1991, becoming the first jurisdiction in the area to do so. Menlo Park and Palo Alto followed suit in 1998 and 2005, respectively, though Menlo Park's law was subsequently overturned in a referendum and Palo Alto's, which applies exclusively to residential neighborhoods, has not been vigilantly enforced.

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The new state law casts a wider net than these local ordinances. It applies to all devices with small off-road engines under 25 horsepower and unlike the local ordinances, which were prompted primarily by noise complaints, the state law focuses on greenhouse gas emissions and health impacts. The bill's passage makes California the first state to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers.

For some, particularly in the commercial sector, the shift could pose significant challenges, according to an analysis of AB 1346 by state Assembly staff. The analysis notes that for residential uses, rechargeable electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers and string trimmers have been "available for years and have significant market share." For commercial users, however, "there is very little market for zero-emission equipment as today's technology is relatively expensive and requires multiple batteries and/or frequent recharging and replacement."

Supporters of the bill hope to address the slow adoption of zero-emissions equipment by the commercial sector by both adopting the new restrictions and by appropriating $30 million in the budget to help small businesses make the switch. Minutes before the Senate voted 21-9 to approve the bill on Sept. 8, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, argued that the law is necessary to foster the state's transition to cleaner equipment.

"Unless we put pressure on the industry, they're not going to take the steps necessary to get these better lower-emission or zero-emission generators onto the market and widely available for folks," Allen said.

Not everyone agrees. Opponents of the bill argued that the legislation will impose unreasonable restrictions on landscapers while doing very little to address climate change. Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, suggested at a Sept. 8 hearing on the bill that a switch to electric equipment would make generators less reliable.

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"When the power is out, how are you going to charge your battery so that you can supposedly keep your refrigerator on?" Dahle asked during a Sept. 8 hearing on AB 1346. "We're converting everything to power because, for some reason, this Legislature hates fuel, which is very sustainable, easy to access and, when the power is off, you can still use it."

Assembly member Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, similarly argued that the bill would cause more harm than good. He characterized the bill at a Sept. 9 hearing as one that would create "severe regulations for the businesses that use this equipment without providing anywhere close to adequate funding to support the rebate programs necessary to support this transition."

A gardener uses a gas-powered leaf blower to clear leaves off a sidewalk in a residential neighborhood in Palo Alto. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

"Many of these businesses are small and minority-owned and are predominant professions for Latino communities involving landscape, tree care and construction," Mathis said, before the Assembly approved the bill by a 49-21 vote.

Supporters of AB 1346 counter that the bill does not regulate use of existing gas-powered equipment but only purchase of new equipment. They also note that the bill includes exceptions for farmers and emergency responders. Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who worked with Berman to advance the bill and secure the funding, argued in a statement Monday that the bill would help address both the environmental and health impacts of small gas engines.

"It's time we phased out these super polluters, and help small landscaping businesses transition to cleaner alternatives," Gonzalez said in a statement Monday.

Berman's bill has also garnered support from organizations such as Sierra Club California, Union of Concerned Scientists and Coalition of Clean Air. Bill Magavern, policy director for Coalition for Clean Air, said in a statement that AB 1346 will "protect Californians' health by cleaning up the shockingly high pollution from small off-road engines like leaf blowers and lawn mowers." Daniel Barad, policy advocate with Sierra Club California, said the bill will "curb toxic pollution in California neighborhoods by addressing emissions from leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other small off-road engines."

"This bill is another important step towards breathable air and a livable climate in California," Barad said in a statement.

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California pulls the plug on gas-powered leaf blowers under new law

Legislation targets sales of new 'small off-road engine' equipment

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Oct 13, 2021, 1:28 pm

Nearly three decades after Peninsula cities began implementing bans on gas-powered leaf blowers, the effort has found a foothold at the state level, with Gov. Gavin Newsom signing a bill on Oct. 9 that will phase out their sales.

Among the dozens of bills that Newsom signed in his final action of the legislative session is Assembly Bill 1346, which was authored by Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, and which directs the California Air Resources Board to adopt regulations by July 2022 that would prohibit new "small off-road engines" — a category that includes gas-powered leaf blowers, generators, pressure washers and chainsaws — by 2024.

In making the case for the bill, Berman cited their environmental impact. In a June speech on the floor of the Assembly, he noted that daily emissions of air pollution from small engines are projected to surpass those from passenger cars this year.

"These emissions worsen air quality and negatively impact human health, causing asthma and lung disease and other awful health impacts on landscaping professionals who breathe in exhaust day in and day out," Berman said.

For cities like Palo Alto, Los Altos and Menlo Park — all of which are in Berman's district — a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers is far from new. Los Altos banned them in 1991, becoming the first jurisdiction in the area to do so. Menlo Park and Palo Alto followed suit in 1998 and 2005, respectively, though Menlo Park's law was subsequently overturned in a referendum and Palo Alto's, which applies exclusively to residential neighborhoods, has not been vigilantly enforced.

The new state law casts a wider net than these local ordinances. It applies to all devices with small off-road engines under 25 horsepower and unlike the local ordinances, which were prompted primarily by noise complaints, the state law focuses on greenhouse gas emissions and health impacts. The bill's passage makes California the first state to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers.

For some, particularly in the commercial sector, the shift could pose significant challenges, according to an analysis of AB 1346 by state Assembly staff. The analysis notes that for residential uses, rechargeable electric lawnmowers, leaf blowers and string trimmers have been "available for years and have significant market share." For commercial users, however, "there is very little market for zero-emission equipment as today's technology is relatively expensive and requires multiple batteries and/or frequent recharging and replacement."

Supporters of the bill hope to address the slow adoption of zero-emissions equipment by the commercial sector by both adopting the new restrictions and by appropriating $30 million in the budget to help small businesses make the switch. Minutes before the Senate voted 21-9 to approve the bill on Sept. 8, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, argued that the law is necessary to foster the state's transition to cleaner equipment.

"Unless we put pressure on the industry, they're not going to take the steps necessary to get these better lower-emission or zero-emission generators onto the market and widely available for folks," Allen said.

Not everyone agrees. Opponents of the bill argued that the legislation will impose unreasonable restrictions on landscapers while doing very little to address climate change. Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, suggested at a Sept. 8 hearing on the bill that a switch to electric equipment would make generators less reliable.

"When the power is out, how are you going to charge your battery so that you can supposedly keep your refrigerator on?" Dahle asked during a Sept. 8 hearing on AB 1346. "We're converting everything to power because, for some reason, this Legislature hates fuel, which is very sustainable, easy to access and, when the power is off, you can still use it."

Assembly member Devon Mathis, R-Visalia, similarly argued that the bill would cause more harm than good. He characterized the bill at a Sept. 9 hearing as one that would create "severe regulations for the businesses that use this equipment without providing anywhere close to adequate funding to support the rebate programs necessary to support this transition."

"Many of these businesses are small and minority-owned and are predominant professions for Latino communities involving landscape, tree care and construction," Mathis said, before the Assembly approved the bill by a 49-21 vote.

Supporters of AB 1346 counter that the bill does not regulate use of existing gas-powered equipment but only purchase of new equipment. They also note that the bill includes exceptions for farmers and emergency responders. Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who worked with Berman to advance the bill and secure the funding, argued in a statement Monday that the bill would help address both the environmental and health impacts of small gas engines.

"It's time we phased out these super polluters, and help small landscaping businesses transition to cleaner alternatives," Gonzalez said in a statement Monday.

Berman's bill has also garnered support from organizations such as Sierra Club California, Union of Concerned Scientists and Coalition of Clean Air. Bill Magavern, policy director for Coalition for Clean Air, said in a statement that AB 1346 will "protect Californians' health by cleaning up the shockingly high pollution from small off-road engines like leaf blowers and lawn mowers." Daniel Barad, policy advocate with Sierra Club California, said the bill will "curb toxic pollution in California neighborhoods by addressing emissions from leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other small off-road engines."

"This bill is another important step towards breathable air and a livable climate in California," Barad said in a statement.

Comments

TimR
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 13, 2021 at 1:39 pm
TimR, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2021 at 1:39 pm

Back when Palo Alto first banned gas leaf blowers, I remember seeing a landscaper at City Hall using an electric blower plugged into a gas generator. So yeah, banning the gas generators is kind of key here.


Fr0hickey
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2021 at 2:18 pm
Fr0hickey, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2021 at 2:18 pm

The new state law casts a wider net than these local ordinances. It applies to all devices with small off-road engines under 25 horsepower.

According to the CARB, SORE (small off-road engines) are 19kW or less.

I bet that some manufacturers will make 20kW or more to avoid the regulation.
Others will buy the electric leaf blowers, and also buy gas-powered electric generators in order to keep running the electric leaf blowers.


Neal
Registered user
Community Center
on Oct 14, 2021 at 9:39 am
Neal, Community Center
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 9:39 am

No problem. These tools can easily be purchased in Nevada or Oregon. BTW Oregon has no sales tax.


Don Kenyon
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 14, 2021 at 10:57 am
Don Kenyon, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 10:57 am

When will Palo alto start enforcing the no gas leaf blowers law enacted in 2005?
Carol


sequoiadean
Registered user
Los Altos
on Oct 14, 2021 at 11:19 am
sequoiadean, Los Altos
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 11:19 am

I applaud the Governor signing this bill. It's an important step towards eliminating these awful devices. Those of you thinking of the workarounds around the bill - perhaps the bill will be modified in the future to deal with these workarounds - just like with many issues, we have to start somewhere.

As far as enforcing the ban in Palo Alto, you should bring that up with the city council and the police department. Here in Los Altos the police are very responsive to calls about leaf blowers, although I've found the best way to stop their use is to simply TALK to your neighbors who employ gardeners who use them (as of course no homeowner ever uses one him/herself), to get them to switch to electric.


funky
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2021 at 11:56 am
funky, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 11:56 am

Palo Alto had this law on the books for ~15 years. As with many laws passed in Palo Alto, this one is not enforced. I looks like I should be moving to Los Altos who does enforce their laws.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Oct 14, 2021 at 12:40 pm
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 12:40 pm

I support the ban on gas leaf blowers -- they are dirty and loud. However, if this is just another feel good law with no assistance to gardeners and others who need to transition and no enforcement, than why bother? Save your breath and money, and work toward helping and persuading your own gardener to change to electric equipment.

During the pandemic, a car parked around the corner from us for several hours a day -- idling his car to power his laptop computer on which he was working. He was never disturbed except by my husband who asked him not to do that. Didn't work.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 14, 2021 at 1:02 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 1:02 pm

I have a battery operated blower. It works great. No Chord, No gas smell. This job can get done with the new tools that are out there now.


M
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2021 at 1:57 pm
M, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 1:57 pm

Palo Alto's ban has always seemed to be a feel good exercise. It provided no financial assistance to gardeners to make the transition and allows the police (who like with vaccine mandates get to decide not to comply if they don't want to) to ignore to enforcement complaints. Cities that are serious about banning leaf blowers make home and property owners responsible, and some limit their use to leaf season -- the fall. (Their current heavy use during the drought makes walking the streets a gauntlet of dust and debris, and is certainly not healthy.)

Leaf blowers are extreme polluters - particularly those with 2-stroke engines, where lubrication oil is mixed into the gas. In addition, they cause significant hearing loss.

I would urge homeowners who hire gardeners who are still using gas powered yard equipment to request that they use battery powered equipment (which is rapidly becoming superior -- reliable, lighter to use, quieter, healthier) and if necessary and possible, help them financially make the transition. In my experience, gardeners are very open to battery powered equipment, but are often concerned about the cost. The city should address this barrier to their use, but some homeowners may have the means to do this as well.


Puffin
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 14, 2021 at 3:36 pm
Puffin, College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 3:36 pm

I sincerely hope Stanford finally pays attention to this!


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Oct 14, 2021 at 6:05 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 14, 2021 at 6:05 pm

I really don't care about the minimal CO2 they emit, just the nasty and disgustingly inconsiderate noise they make. Their CO2 is scientifically unimportant compared to governmentally protected gross pollution. Like in the USA, where coal power plants are legal!!! And it's impossible to ban the manufacturing and sale of monster mega truck and mega SUV nightmares intended to gratify the whims of ignorant but wealthy dillettantes, and not just only for essential economic uses. What I care about is the nasty NOISE these lawn devices make.

So, PA should put a limited ban on noise pollution of any "mow, blow, and go" lawn and tree services ("landscaping" and "gardening" are sick jokes for those morons) --- plus HOMEOWNERS. The the noise limit should ban both commercial services and homeowners from making such disruptive noise except between 9 AM to 5 PM Mon thru Fri, and to ban all such noise on Saturday and Sunday, and all holidays and their weekends. Electric blowers, mowers, chainsaws, and similar devices included in the ban. They're nasty too.

Modern society is far too NOISY. Time to shut it during hours when people expect and need SILENCE. Mon thru Fri, 9AM to 5 PM. And if you don't like this, too bad. I really don't care.


John Donegan
Registered user
another community
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:42 am
John Donegan, another community
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 10:42 am

As usual, California hasn't thought this through. Consider the big winter storm when trees fall and the power goes out for an extended period. Electric chainsaws will not clear the roads, nor be of much help any distance from an outlet even when the power is on.. And,of course, electrically powered generators do not make much sense. Even if you spend an immense amount of money and buy a home battery, it may not last for the duration of the outage. Good luck to anyone relying on electrical medical appliances.


Fr0hickey
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2021 at 3:18 pm
Fr0hickey, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 3:18 pm

@John Donegan

Reminds me that I should give my gas chainsaw a tuneup.
But, we should not have an issue this winter. We are in a La Nina year, which means milder winter rains.

I predict that small off road engines will get larger to skirt this regulation.


Fr0hickey
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 15, 2021 at 3:21 pm
Fr0hickey, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 15, 2021 at 3:21 pm

What if the state gave every person under the age of 18, a voucher for a brand-new rake from Home Depot/Lowes/OSH/etc?


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