California OKs phaseout of gas-powered landscaping machinery
California regulators voted on Thursday to ban the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers starting in 2024 and portable generators by 2028, the latest step in the state’s aggressive effort to reduce harmful pollutants and transition toward a carbon-free economy.
The new regulations by the California Air Resources Board require all newly sold small-motor equipment primarily used for landscaping to be zero-emission by the target dates, with some exceptions.
The agency’s decision is based in part on the belief that battery technology will improve and zero-emission gear will become more widely available before the requirements kick in — though there will be an annual review to determine whether they are on target and whether regulation needs to be altered or delayed.
The restriction applies to homeowners and commercial landscapers alike, and the ban also includes gas-powered weed trimmers, chainsaws and power washers. The regulation does not ban existing gas-powered equipment, however, which can continue to be used.
Combined, these small gas-powered engines create as much smog-causing pollution in California as light-duty passenger cars. There are approximately 15.4 million small off-road engines in California and they produce about 141 tons of smog-forming emissions per day, according to the agency.
Richard Corey, executive director of the agency, told the board that the ban will provide significant health benefits for Californians, including those in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, which tend to experience the highest exposure to pollutants.
Environmental and public health advocates praised the new regulations, saying transitioning to zero-emission landscaping equipment and generators — either battery-powered or plug-in — will not only reduce pollution but protect the health of landscaping workers, homeowners and tenants who are exposed to gas and oil fumes.
“The new sales will start to make this transition to what’s much cleaner as well as quieter equipment,” said Bill Magavern of the Coalition for Clean Air. “That’s going to be a major health improvement for the workers who use the equipment and for residents who are exposed, as well as everybody in the region because smog is really a regional problem.”
Agency staff told the board that while transitioning to zero-emission machinery will lead to an added upfront cost to landscapers, that will be offset by the money they save in fuel, maintenance and repairs. The reduced emissions also will prevent hundreds of premature deaths in the decades ahead, as well as lowering healthcare costs for those affected by the carbon emissions, they said.
Landscaping businesses have adamantly opposed the new restrictions, saying zero-emission, commercial-grade equipment is prohibitively expensive and less efficient than the existing gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other small machinery used in the industry. According to one industry representative, a three-person landscaping crew would need to carry 30 to 40 fully charged batteries to power its equipment during a full day’s work.
“The cost of transition would be significant and probably kill my small business,” Elizabeth Burns, president of Zone 24 Landscaping in Torrance, told the board.
Jeff Coad of small-machinery manufacturer Briggs & Stratton told the Air Resources Board that his company supports a move to zero-emission equipment but said the 2024 target date was unrealistic. The quality of zero-emission equipment such as commercial riding lawn mowers remains far behind that of gas-powered versions.
Air Resources Board member Hector De La Torre said when the agency sets ambitious goals, as in this case, “99% of the time we get there.” If there are problems going forward, however, the board will stop the process and reassess the situation.
“We’re not blind to the realities of what’s going on in the marketplace,” he said.
According to the board, operating a typical professional gas-powered lawn mower for an hour emits as much pollution as driving a car from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Operating a backpack leaf blower for an hour emits pollution comparable to driving that same car from Los Angeles to Denver.
The Air Resources Board began working on the regulations after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order in September 2020 that required the state to “transition to 100% zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 where feasible,” which includes landscaping equipment and portable generators.
In October, Newsom signed legislation enshrining that policy in state law.
Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), author of the legislation, said the state has set aside $30 million to help professional landscapers and gardeners make the transition from gas-powered to zero-emission equipment. Berman and members of the Air Resources Board agree that more money will be needed in the future, particularly for small landscaping businesses.
The ban on gas-powered generators elicited the most opposition during Thursday’s hearing, with critics saying battery-powered generators are an inadequate substitute during a sustained power outage or when access to power to recharge a battery is nonexistent.
Dave Johnston, the air pollution control officer at El Dorado County Air Quality Management District, expressed concern about the consequences for residents in rural areas. Gas-powered portable generators are essential for many Californians, especially those living in areas hit by widespread blackouts when high winds sweep through the state, mostly because utilities are trying to prevent a downed power line from starting a blaze.
“Power outages in rural areas are frequent and can last for several days and are becoming more common,” he told the board, asking it to delay the ban. “Forcing moderate- to low-income rural residents to do without power for extended periods to achieve small emission reductions in these areas that are already in attainment is unconscionable.”
Recreational vehicle manufactures and dealers also urged the board to rethink the generator ban. They said RV users depend on gas-powered generators, which are often permanently mounted, while in remote areas without access to power. Solar-powered equipment cannot provide the energy needed to run medical devices, refrigerators and air conditioning in hot climates, they said.
“The battery required to supply needed power to an RV for just one day would need to be twice the size of a battery currently used in a Tesla Model S and would cost upwards of $60,000 to $100,000, and would add at least 1,000 to 2,000 pounds to a vehicle, decreasing its fuel economy,” said Michael Ochs of the Recreational Vehicle Industry Assn.
Dealers told the board the ban will force Californians to buy RVs in neighboring states where gas-powered generators are permitted, which would cost jobs and do nothing to improve air quality.
Agency officials said those concerns will be assessed before the new regulations are implemented.
The new regulations come as California moves toward the goal of transitioning to 100% clean energy by 2045, shedding its reliance on gas-powered cars and slowly phasing out the state’s billion-dollar oil and gas industry.
In the same 2019 executive order to ban gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers, Newsom required all new cars sold to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Newsom in April took action to ban new permits for hydraulic fracturing starting in 2024, and in October took the first step toward banning new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of homes, schools and healthcare facilities.