As the global climate crisis heats up, countries across the world are taking drastic measures to slash carbon emissions. Joining the ranks, California has become the latest state to take strong action.
California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed landmark legislation that aims to ban the sale of gas-powered lawn equipment, generators, and other small engines designed for off-road use. The latest law stems from the executive order signed by Gov. Newsom in 2020 that bans the sale of new passenger cars powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs).
California Air Resources Board (CARB) is expected to map the phaseout in 2022 and officially put it in place by 2024. Assembly Bill 1346 requires the CARB to adopt cost-effective and technologically feasible regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and evaporative emissions from new small off-road engines (SOREs).
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What exactly are SOREs?
CARB defines SOREs as off-road spark-ignition engines that are rated at 19 kilowatts (25 horsepower) or less. Other equipment examples given by the board include logging, industrial, golf carts, and specialty vehicles. Engines in this category are used in lawn and garden equipment as well as other outdoor power equipment and specialty vehicles.
CARB says that running a “best-selling leaf blower” for an hour is equivalent to driving a 2017 Toyota Camry for 1,100 miles. The toxic effect on the environment is undeniable.
SORE equipment lets off high levels of oxides of nitrogen, reactive organic gases, and particulate matter, which adversely impact human health. These gases can cause lung cancer, heart disease, strokes, asthma, and other respiratory ailments.
What led to this action that has stirred the industry?
According to CARB, there are currently 16.7 million small engines in the state, significantly more compared to 13.7 million passenger vehicles.
The population of small engines (SOREs) comprises 77% residential lawn and garden equipment, while federally regulated construction and farming machinery make up 11%. 9% is attributed to commercial lawn equipment and gardens, which may be hit hardest by this legislation. The remaining 3% is for other equipment types (generators, utility cars, etc.)
These fleets of small engines are responsible for a substantial amount of the state’s emissions. This decision effectively marks the beginning of the end for gas-powered SOREs.
The legislation recognizes that the transition to battery-powered equipment will be a hardship for many small businesses. Marc Berman, author of the legislation has said, “California will pledge approximately $30 million to aid commercial businesses, but given that there are around 50,000 outfits in the state that’ll be affected by the change, that works out to around $600 each.”
According to Andrew Bray, Vice President of government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP), that simply isn’t enough. Given the number of businesses that would need this kind of assistance, the net effect would probably come down to only hundreds of dollars for each company.
Objectively, the new law is great news. Less noise, quieter neighborhoods, and definitely less pollution. Except the fact that it doesn’t come cheap, and the compensation from state packages might just not be enough. A gasoline-powered commercial riding mower could cost a business anywhere from $7,000 to $11,000, while the zero-emissions equivalents often cost more than twice that.
While some are welcoming the less noisy electrical replacements that will soon be widely used, many small business owners in the commercial landscaping and construction industries are not happy.
California is now the first state to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers and lawnmowers, in an effort to reduce smog-forming pollution in the state.
What does this mean for you?
Although gas-powered equipment would not be made illegal, the sale of new gas-powered SORE would be phased out until 2024, or by a date that CARB finds acceptable.
CARB has promised to make funding available for commercial rebates to support the transition to zero-emission SORE. New portable gas-powered generators sold in the state would also have to be zero-emission by 2028, although that date may change based on future CARB decisions over needed blackout generators.
For some, this is a non-starter. The bill doesn’t stop anyone from bringing in a gas-powered version from say Mexico or Arizona. A lot of landscapers already have the electric equipment, but prefer the gas ones over it for the extra power and force that it delivers.
Others believe that this goes against the free-market forces and reduces diversification in the market. The electric grid is ill-equipped for extreme conditions, like extended heat waves or polar vortex cold snaps, without blackouts, as recently happened in California. Banning gas-powered generators in such wildfire season will be difficult to implement.
The legislation is just one of the steps California is taking to phase out the use of gas.
The AB 1346 law follows in the footsteps of the executive order passed last year to phase out gas-powered vehicles and require sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035.
One thing is for sure, this experiment is going to be watched closely, and we will see a rise in new and affordable battery-operated equipment. Having said that, it is up against a lot of resistance with the due date set to 2024.