Tim De Chant
2021 10 11
Gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers will soon be a thing of the past in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law a bill that will ban the sale of small internal combustion engines predominately used in lawn and garden equipment, starting as soon as 2024.
The new law, authored by Assemblyman Marc Berman from Menlo Park, will offer rebates for consumers to purchase electric replacements, and it builds on previous rulemaking already underway at the state’s air regulator, the California Air Resources Board, better known as CARB. The phaseout will begin as soon as feasible or by January 1, 2024, whichever comes later.
“Currently, there are zero-emission equivalents to all [small off-road engine] equipment regulated by the State Air Resources Board,” the law points out. “The battery technology required for commercial-grade zero-emission equipment is available and many users, both commercial and residential, have already begun to transition to zero-emission equipment.”
Lawn mowers and leaf blowers are exceptional polluters. Their small engines spew outsize amounts of smog-forming NOx, cancer-causing volatile organic compounds, and lung-damaging particulate matter. Operating a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour produces as much volatile organic compounds and NOx as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from New York City to Orlando, Florida, state officials say.
Millions of engines
California is littered with gas-powered lawn equipment and generators, totaling more than 16.7 million statewide. For comparison, there are about 35 million cars, trucks, and semis registered in the state. Though the law doesn’t mention go-karts or golf carts, those that make less than 25 hp (18.6 kW) are already regulated under CARB’s small off-road engine regime. More powerful engines are subject to large-spark ignition regulations.
Small engines were essentially unregulated before 1990 in California and 1995 elsewhere, and new limits have cut small engine pollution over the past two decades. But as recently as last year, small engines produced more NOx and VOC pollution in California than passenger vehicles.
Even under recent EPA regulations, people operating lawn and garden equipment are exposed to certain pollutants at potentially harmful levels. Fine particulates (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide were the worst offenders in a
. Even homeowners using the equipment for an hour or so would, under certain conditions, be exposed to pollution levels that exceeded national air quality standards for a 24-hour period.
The new law calls out not just exhaust emissions but also those from fuel tanks, where evaporating gasoline can release large amounts of benzene and other hazardous compounds. Together, evaporative emissions account for around 35 percent of pollution from small engines. Since many lawn mowers and other equipment are stored inside garages, evaporated pollutants can seep into homes.
California enacted stricter regulations for evaporative emissions from small engines in 2003, but years later, when CARB checked 60 pieces of lawn and garden equipment, it found that 33 of them were not compliant. Over the years, small engine makers like Kawasaki and Yamaha have been fined by CARB or reached settlements for not complying with state regulations.
The new law comes as electric lawn and garden equipment is increasingly competitive with gas versions. The best battery-powered lawn mowers, for example, receive almost the same scores at Consumer Reports. Several manufacturers are even offering battery-powered riding mowers capable of mowing two acres per charge while requiring significantly less maintenance.