Lawn mowers and leaf blowers powered by gasoline are now prohibited in California

  • Using small, gas-powered equipment such as leaf blowers and generators for the same amount of time has been shown to be significantly worse for the environment than driving a car, which is why California's Air Resources Board has pushed state politicians to take action.
  • If the board determines that banning the sale of gas-powered tools is feasible, the new law, AB 1346, will require the state to adopt regulations around these tools by July 1, 2022, and to ban their sale by the beginning of 2024.
  • Oh, and we should point out that the photo at the top was taken in another state. It depicts a member of Team Going Commando competing in a 12-hour lawn-mower endurance race in the United Kingdom in the year 2018. Try it with a leaf blower that is powered by electricity.

How polluting is the world's most popular gas-powered leaf blower? According to the California Air Resources Board, if you use it for an hour, it emits the same amount of smog-forming pollution as a 2016 Toyota Camry driving for 1100 miles. That explains why California has passed a new ban on small engines that emit high levels of pollution, paving the way for quieter and cleaner lawn work across the state beginning in 2024. It is intended to target small off-road engines (abbreviated SOREs in the bill) that can be found in residential and commercial lawn and garden equipment, federally regulated construction and farming equipment, as well as other machines such as generators, among other things.

Part of the motivation for the new law came from the efforts of the powerful California Air Resources Board (CARB), which has been working for decades to improve air quality in the state of California. According to the California Air Resources Board, small engines outnumber light-duty passenger vehicles by nearly three million (16.5 million vs. 13.7 million). California's Air Resources Board makes an excellent case for the need to regulate these SOREs, pointing out that the lack of pollution control devices on the machines that use SOREs results in significantly more pollution than a passenger car over the course of a single day.

According to the California Air Resources Board, using the "bestselling commercial lawn mower" for an hour emits as much smog-forming pollution as driving a 2016 Toyota Camry for approximately 300 miles. For even greater pollution, consider that the "bestselling commercial leaf blower" emits the equivalent amount of smog-forming pollution that a Toyota Camry would emit if driven for one hundred and eighty-five miles. According to the law's sponsors, SOREs emit high levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx), reactive organic gases (ROG), and particulate matter (PM), all of which have a negative impact on human health and should be prohibited.

"Small gas engines are not only harmful to the environment and contribute to the climate crisis, but they can also cause asthma and other health problems in the workers who use them," said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, one of the legislation's co-sponsors, in a statement. We need to phase out these super polluters and assist small landscaping businesses in making the transition to cleaner alternatives, says the author.

SOREs are prohibited from emitting engine exhaust and evaporative emissions under the terms of the law, AB 1346, which requires the state board to "adopt cost-effective and technologically feasible regulations" by July 1, 2022. It will be applicable to any engines built on or after January 1, 2024 if the rules that will be written next year are followed (or, if that deadline is deemed not feasible by the state board, some later date). The board will determine whether this rule is technologically feasible by taking into account not only the emissions from SOREs themselves, but also the ease with which zero-emission off-road equipment can be purchased, as well as any increased demand on the electric grid that may result from the conversion of millions of outdoor devices to electric power.

In a similar vein to how the California Air Resources Board (CARB) supported efforts to shift drivers to plug-in vehicles, the new law mandates that the state board offer commercial rebates or some other type of incentive program to people who purchase new, zero-emission equipment "to the extent practicable." The bill authorizes the expenditure of $30 million in tax breaks and other incentives to encourage individuals and businesses to purchase zero-emission machines.

The sale of most gas-powered recreational vehicles, such as ATVs and dirt bikes, will not be affected by the new SORE legislation. SOREs, according to CARB's official definition, are "spark-ignition engines rated at or below 19 kilowatts," or 25 horsepower, despite the fact that most off-road recreational equipment is powered by engines with greater horsepower. In addition to on-highway recreational vehicles, CARB has been regulating off-highway recreational vehicles since 1994, and currently classifies machines with engines of 25 horsepower or greater, such as specialty vehicles and go-karts, into a system of "large spark-ignition engine" regulations.

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