Photo by Rick Whittle on Unsplash.


New rules phasing out manufacture of polluting lawn and garden equipment in 2024 were unanimously approved by the California Air Resources Board Thursday despite opposition from gardeners and landscapers.

Manufacturers must meet zero-emission standards for new models of yard equipment, including weed whackers, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and smaller chain saws, in three years. Residents and workers, however, can continue to use and repair their gas-powered equipment.

Gardeners and landscaping associations raised concerns about higher costs to buy the equipment and additional batteries needed for a day’s work.

“The cost to transition would be significant and probably kill my small business,” Elizabeth Burns, president of Zone 24 Landscaping Inc., based in Torrance, said at the hearing. “One other issue is the technology is not yet there for battery life and that’s super important.”

Also, under the new rules, new portable generators must meet stricter emission standards in 2024 and reach zero-emissions for model-year 2028 generators.

“The cost to transition would be significant and probably kill my small business.”
— Elizabeth Burns, Zone 24 Landscaping, INC.

At a three-hour public hearing Thursday, much of the opposition came from the RV industry and owners, who urged the board, unsuccessfully, to exempt their generators. Also, rural officials warned that alternatives to portable generators are cost prohibitive and do not perform adequately.

“Power outages in rural areas are frequent, can last for several days and are becoming more common,” said Dave Johnston, air pollution control officer for Eldorado County. “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.”

In a presentation, air board staff said the longer lead time of four more years for portable generators will allow “manufacturers to develop models with more energy storage and power delivery.”

Small engines powering lawn equipment and portable generators are a surprisingly large source of California’s air pollution, belching more smog-forming pollutants than cars and SUVs in California. Using a commercial leaf blower for an hour spews as much as driving 1,100 miles in a new car, roughly from Los Angeles to Denver, the air board reports.

Air board officials estimate that 93% of the equipment covered by the new standards would be zero emissions by 2035, compared to only 54% under current rules. The rule will prevent almost 900 premature deaths through 2043, with the health benefits expected to reach $8.82 billion — offsetting expected costs of about $4 billion to achieve the emissions, according to air board estimates.

Earlier this year, California legislators passed a law calling for new state regulations to bar emissions from yard equipment and portable generators.

“These engines cause asthma, cardio respiratory disease and increase cancer risk and premature death,” Assemblymember Marc Berman, a Democrat from Los Altos who co-authored the bill, said at the hearing, reminding board members that California is home to seven of the ten smoggiest cities in the country.

Still, he said, “it is important to emphasize that the regulation is not a ban on use. Nobody will have to give up or stop using equipment they already own.”

The board also planned to vote on major rules that mandate new smog checks for big-rig trucks.

The lawn equipment rules build on existing regulations that have helped cut emissions from small off-road engines by half over the past 20 years. But in the absence of new regulation, their emissions are expected to grow to nearly twice those from cars and SUVs by 2031.

The rule instead is aimed at manufacturers, air board staff say, not gardeners and landscapers, who can continue to use and repair gas-powered equipment even after the new rules take effect.

Manufacturers will be permitted to meet the emission standards using credits earned under previous rules, meaning that the phaseout won’t be instantaneous.

Still, Jeff Coad, vice president of marketing and management at manufacturer Briggs and Stratton, said the timeline is unrealistic for manufacturers and small businesses.

“The development time for each machine to convert from gas power to an electrified drive train can take two years” for each manufacturer, for each product, he said. And there’s been limited commercial uptake due to several issues, he said. “Battery runtime, lack of infield charging options, high cutting performance requirements and the very high price of electrified machines.”

California regulators acknowledge that small business landscapers, which make up more than 99% of the landscaping businesses in the state, may be significantly affected by the costs of the new rules.

“Purchasing all new (zero emission equipment) in addition to the batteries may be burdensome. However, landscapers using (zero emission equipment) may realize net cost-savings within the first few years of purchase due to decreased fuel and maintenance costs,” staff reported.

“There will be more incentive money needed. And we’ll be asking the Legislature and the governor for that.”
— Bill Magavern, the Coalition for Clean Air

To help, California legislators carved out $30 million to provide incentives for small independent gardeners and landscaping businesses to help cover the costs of transitioning to zero-emission equipment. The move follows similar incentive programs offered by regional air regulators in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley.

“What we’ve learned through these efforts is that zero emission equipment is more readily available, but significant challenges remain and widely deploying this equipment,” said Tom Jordan with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. “This transition will not be an easy one that will require ongoing evaluation of technologies and will need significant new funding.”

Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Association, urged the air board to push back the deadline for commercial users and called the rebates from the $30 million in incentives “woefully inadequate.”

Construction and agricultural equipment such as larger chainsaws and brushcutters used for fuel management and wildfire preparation are exempt.

Bill Magavern, policy director with the Coalition for Clean Air, celebrated the new rule, warning that it’s the workers who suffer the worst consequences from yard care equipment emissions. But he also acknowledged the cost.

“We do think that as you move forward, there will be more incentive money needed,” Magavern said. “And we’ll be asking the Legislature and the governor for that.”

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