New California Law: Say bye to your gas lawnmower, leaf blower, and chainsaw

Jano le Roux

A new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday will ban the sale of new gas-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and chainsaws as early as 2024.

By that deadline, or as soon as the California Air Resources Board determines it is possible, all newly sold small-motor equipment principally used for landscaping must be zero-emissions — essentially, battery-operated or plug-in. New portable gas-powered generators must also be zero-emissions by 2028, a deadline that could be pushed back at the state agency’s discretion.

Chainsaws, weed trimmers, and golf carts are examples of machinery with so-called small off-road engines, which emit as much smog-causing pollution as light-duty passenger cars in California, and reducing those emissions is critical to improving air quality and combating climate change, according to proponents of the law.

According to Berman, the state has set aside $30 million to assist professional landscapers and gardeners in making the transition from gas-powered to zero-emission equipment, but an industry representative claims that amount is woefully inadequate for the estimated 50,000 small businesses affected by the law.

Landscapers’ zero-emission commercial grade equipment is also prohibitively expensive and less efficient than the existing gas-powered lawmakers, leaf blowers, and other small machinery, according to Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals. A gas-powered commercial riding lawn mower, for example, costs between $7,000 and $11,000, but its zero-emissions counterpart costs more than twice as much, according to him.

Batteries will be another significant cost. A three-person landscaping crew, according to Bray, will need 30 to 40 completely charged batteries to power their equipment for a full day’s work.

According to Berman, the transition to zero-emission landscaping equipment is well underway, particularly among the great majority of property owners who can mow their lawns and trim their hedges on a single battery charge. Cities and institutions, he added, have begun to make the move. Both property owners and professional landscapers can still utilize gas-powered equipment acquired before the deadlines, according to Berman.

Republicans and several Democrats opposed the bill, citing concerns about how residents in rural regions would be affected, particularly when it came to the state’s mandate that portable generators be zero-emission.

In recent years, during the peak of wildfire season, when heavy winds blow over the state, California has experienced widespread blackouts, primarily as a result of utilities attempting to prevent a broken power line from igniting a fire. As a result, Sen. Brian Dahle (R-Bieber) believes that prohibiting gas-powered generators is illogical.

Berman said those concerns are being considered, and the California Air Resources Board is required by law to change generator regulations based on the “expected availability” of that equipment on the commercial and retail market.

The new regulation applies to lawnmowers, weed trimmers, chainsaws, golf carts, specialty vehicles, generators, and pumps that produce less than 25 gross horsepower. On-road motor vehicles, off-road motorbikes, all-terrain vehicles, boats, snowmobiles, model airplanes, cars, and boats are not included.

The California Air Resources Board has been preparing regulations requiring small engines covered by the new law to emit zero emissions, which the board might implement before the end of the year.

After Newsom signed an executive order in September 2020 requiring the state to “transition to 100 percent zero-emission off-road vehicles and equipment by 2035 where feasible,” the agency began working on the requirements.

In the same order, Newsom mandated that all new cars sold by 2035 be zero-emission vehicles, and he endorsed a ban on oil corporations’ contentious use of hydraulic fracturing.

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