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In 20 months, it’ll be illegal to buy new gas-powered leaf blowers in California
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

A mid-sized 2016 Toyota Camry can get up to 25 miles per gallon in city driving and up to 35 miles per gallon on the highway.

That’s fairly decent mileage. And it is safe to assume it is less polluting than a full-size SUV.

But compared to the typical gas-powered lawn mower, as well as the typical gas-powered leaf blower, the 2016 Camry is virtually emission free.

The best-selling gas-powered lawn mower — based on studies conducted by the California Air Resources Board — emits as much smog forming pollution in an hour of operation as that 2016 Camry does in 9 round trips between Manteca and Turlock.

That’s nothing compared to the most popular gas-powered leaf blower. The Camry has to make almost eight round trips between Manteca and San Jose to pollute the air to the level running a leaf blower for an hour does.

It is what behind a looming mandate that prohibits the sale of most yard care equipment sold in California produced in 2024 and thereafter that is gas powered.

The level of pollution small gas engines emit is why starting to wean Californians off them before cutting off new sales of vehicles that are gas-powered starting with the 2035 model year is happening first.

CARB research in 2021 showed that the 15.4 million small engines on small devices such as lawn mowers, weed whackers, light duty chain saws, and leaf blowers generate roughly 141 tons of smog producing pollution daily. That’s about the same as all of the pollution that is emitted from all of the light duty vehicles operated in California.

There are clearly a host of issues surrounding the 2035 zero emission new vehicle mandate that could justify rethinking that law including:

*The capacity to generate clean electricity to recharge them.

*The practically of such technology in remote areas and the snow country.

*The ability to have adequate raw materials such as lithium.

*Driving range and perhaps lingering performance issues.

*Making sure adequate production capacity is in place to make electric vehicles or other zero-emission technology attainable price-wise for the masses.

None of those concerns impact small engine lawn equipment except for perhaps those aimed at the commercial landscape maintenance market.

If you’ve used the new lithium battery charged leaf blowers and weed whackers you already know a few things.

*For typical yards batteries have adequate charges.

*There is no loss of performance using weed whackers in high or thick vegetation.

*As for leaf blowers, just like with gas-powered ones, the more expensive ones have more power.
*If you have multiple devices from the same manufacturer, you don’t even need to buy a spare battery pack if your task is more daunting than a typical sized-yard as they are interchangeable.
*And just like with electric powered yard care equipment tethered to power cords they are easier to start by far and have less maintenance issues.

Battery powered lawn mowers have greatly evolved freeing you from cord concerns whether it is adequate length or inadvertently running over it.

The CARB estimated in 2021 that 55 percent of lawn and yard care equipment for home use in California was already electric — either powered by extension cords or batteries.

Only 6 percent of lawn care equipment owned by professional landscape maintenance concerns — including government entities such as school districts and cities — was electric.

The technology is still evolving, especially for professional grade devices. The all-day use that often covers larger areas poses battery charge issues as well as the ability for equipment to perform as it should.

That said, the biggest stumbling block for the equipment that is available for professional use is the price.

Based on trials conducted by LandCare USA that provides landscaping services in 20 states, the cost of securing an electric trimmer for professional jobs is much as three times higher than the gas-powered version.

That is why the original legislation set aside $30 million to help California lawn and yard care companies purchase new equipment.

But if what manufacturers are promising comes true, the initial higher cost of equipment will be negated by lower operating costs.

Toro says its battery-powered commercial lawn mower dubbed “Revolution” will cost double a comparable performing gas-powered model.

Toro, however, estimates customers will be able to recoup that additional cost over the course of 2½ years by not having to buy gasoline, replace engine filters and not incurring other costs.

Like the auto mandate, nothing in the law prohibits the use of gas-powered yard care equipment in 2024 and beyond. Existing gas-powered equipment can be used, sold, and bought.

It is weaning process through attrition. When equipment stops working its history. No one is going cold turkey.

Keep in mind this is really driven in California not by climate change as much as is the need to improve our air quality.

That statement may irk climate change zealots so at least they deserve a few kudos for applying to push the zero-emission lawn care equipment law forward.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District in the Los Angeles Basin as early as the 1990s had raised the need to ban small engines in the form of weed whackers, leaf blowers and lawn mowers.

They pointed out the pollution generated by those devices were greater than all of that created by aircraft using LA International, Orange County and the Burbank airports as well as numerous smaller air fields.

When they suggested a phaseout as the state has now mandated, the pushback was swift and furious.

It wasn’t from homeowners but small-scale yard maintenance firms.

At one point protestors outside Los Angeles City Hall equated the ban on gas-powered yard care equipment to racism as they contended the vast majority of the lawn care firms that would be impacted were owned by immigrants.

The climate change clamor has allowed some of the more political problematic objectives of California’s drive to clean its air that started in earnest when Democrats and Republicans had equal power in Sacramento and Ronald Reagan was governor.

In was back in the early 1970s when the words “climate” and “change” were rarely uttered together.

It is clear air quality as gotten better. By some yard sticks dating back to 1992, San Joaquin Valley air quality is 50 percent better despite the region’s population almost doubling.

While we are not going to rid the air of all pollution that is manmade, we still need to do better.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s State of the Air 2022 report — based on data gleaned from 2018 to 2020 — underscores that point.

Based on ozone, six of the top 10 metropolitan statistical areas in the nation when it comes to the worst air as determined by ozone levels are in California. (1. Los Angeles-Long Beach, 2. Bakersfield, 3. Visalia, 4. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, 6. San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad, and 9. Sacramento-Roseville.)

Seven of the 10 worst cities for year-round particle pollution are in the Golden State. (1. Bakersfield, 2. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, 3. Visalia, 4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, 5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, 9. Chico, and 10. El Centro)

And eight of the 10 worst cities for short-term particle pollution are in California. (1. Fresno-Madera-Hanford, 2. Bakersfield, 4. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, 5. Redding-Red Bluff, 6. Chico, 7. Sacramento-Roseville, 8. Los Angeles-Long Beach, and 9. Visalia.)

Losing the ability to buy new gas-powered yard care equipment in California starting in 2024 is a small price to pay for significantly less air pollution.