The nationwide move to phase out hyper-polluting, technologically obsolescent, dangerously noisy gas-powered leafblowers is gaining momentum. In addition to the many previous instances reported in this space, most prominently Washington DC, three new communities are preparing to join the list.
Dallas: From a story by Corbett Smith in DallasNews.com
Gas-powered leaf blowers could take the fall for Dallas’ problems with loud noises….
The city already has rules that regulate the use of lawn equipment between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. But, Kingston said, “There’s a host of environmental and public health reasons not to have these around” at all.
Lancaster, California: From a story by Julie Drake in Antelope Valley Press:
The City Council will consider introducing an ordinance at Tuesday’s meeting that would require the implementation of electric-powered landscape equipment by landscape maintenance businesses within five years….
“Replacement of gasoline and diesel commercial landscaping equipment will reduce fuel consumption and spillage, exhaust emissions, noise, toxic solvents used for maintenance. As a result of this program the Antelope Valley will benefit from quieter, cleaner, and healthier neighborhoods, schools, businesses, and communities,”[City Manager Jason] Caudle’s report said.
Southampton Village, New York: From a column by Karl Grossman in Shelter Island Reporter:
Mayor Michael Irving and Trustee Kimberly Allan are sponsoring the legislation…. It limits the months (no warmer weather months) and times (no earlier than 8 a.m. or later than 6 p.m.) and days (no use on Sundays and federal and state holidays) when gas-powered leaf blowers can be used.
“It’s the new second-hand smoke,” Trustee Allan said. “Exhaust emissions from gas-powered leaf blowers can contain significant amounts of highly toxic compounds linked to certain cancers, asthma and other respiratory problems, as well as damage to the heart, lungs, and central nervous system,” notes the organization Grassroots Environmental Education. Toxins in their engine exhaust include cancer-causing benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, among other poisons.
A major city like Dallas, a medium-sized city in California’s inland “High Desert” region, Southampton Village on Long Island — these are three very different communities, to put it mildly. The trend is spreading. Congratulations to leaders in all three locales.
The village of East Hampton, New York, already has time-of-day limits on the use of gas-powered leaf blowers during summer time. Its Village Board is now considering a complete ban during the months of June, July, August, and part of September, when the area is at its peak as a vacation and resort destination.
Under existing law, between June 1 and the second Friday of December, a homeowner or tenant’s use of gas or diesel-powered lawn care equipment is limited to Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., on Saturday between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and on Sunday and federal holidays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. People other than the tenant or homeowner must follow the same restrictions on weekdays and Saturdays, but are also prohibited from using such equipment on Sundays and federal holidays.
The proposed law, introduced at an East Hampton Village Board meeting on March 15, would completely prohibit the use of such equipment between June 1 and Labor Day, and at all times on Sundays and federal holidays (including between Labor Day and May 31). Golf club and municipal employees who are performing their professional duties would be exempted from the prohibition, as they had been previously, provided that no leaf blowers are used within 100 feet of the nearest residence.
In the April, 2019 issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows of the magazine, and of QCDC, has an article on how the Washington D.C. City Council decided to approve a bill to phase out gas-powered leafblower use within the District, by January 1, 2022.
You can read the article, “Get Off My Lawn,” here. A sample:
When people encounter engines these days, they’re generally seeing the outcome of decades of intense work toward higher efficiency. The latest models of jet-turbine engines are up to 80 percent more fuel-efficient than their 1950s counterparts….
The great outlier here is a piece of obsolete machinery Americans encounter mainly in lawn-care equipment: the humble “two-stroke engine.”… If you’ve seen a tuk‑tuk, one of the noisy tricycle-style taxis in places such as Bangkok and Jakarta, with purple smoke wafting out of its tailpipe, you’ve seen a two-stroke engine in action.
But you won’t see as many of them in those cities anymore, because governments in Asia and elsewhere have been banning and phasing out two-stroke engines on antipollution grounds.… Two-stroke engines have largely disappeared from the scooter, moped, and trail-bike markets in America. Regulators around the world are pushing older two-stroke engines toward extinction.
Yet they remain the propulsive force behind the 200-mph winds coming out of many backpack leaf blowers. As a product category, this is a narrow one. But the impact of these little machines is significant. In 2017, the California Air Resources Board issued a warning that may seem incredible but has not been seriously challenged: By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.
As recounted on this site over the past three years, D.C. Council Member Mary Cheh took the lead in supporting this bill, and last fall it passed the D.C. Council unanimously. Supporters in D.C. hope this will be a catalyst for further action across the country.
One of the big themes of this site has been “accelerating the inevitable” — speeding the move away from obsolete, hyper-polluting, dangerously noisy gas-powered equipment, and toward fast-developing new battery-powered models.
The same revolutions in battery technology that are transforming the automotive, aviation, power-storage, and other fields will also inevitably eliminate any rationale for using antiquated gas-powered equipment. It will also ease the transition in the rapidly rising number of cities, now including the District of Columbia, that have mandated a shift to battery-powered machinery.
Here is the latest indication of where business-and-technological innovation is leading: a new, low-priced entry from Ryobi, which bills this blower as “unbelievably quiet and incredibly powerful.” The purpose of this site is of course not to promote any one company’s offerings over the others’, but instead to welcome the competition among many manufacturers, established companies and newer businesses alike, to bring more effective, less costly products to the market.
More information from Ryobi’s site, here, source of the screenshot below.
The Almanac, of Portola Valley, in northern California, reports on the City Council’s 4-0 vote to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, after a two-year phase in period.
The story, by Dave Boyce, says:
Before voting to approve the ordinance, council members spoke favorably of the ban as a way to address noise impacts for people who work from home, as a way to slow soil damage since education efforts have not seemed to work, and as a way to address climate change.
“That one is huge,” Councilman John Richards said in reference to eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline-powered blowers. “I think we are absolutely in a crisis.”
Councilman Craig Hughes called climate change “the biggest thing that is probably going to impact the most people. … The more we can pick off low-hanging fruit, especially when there are viable alternatives, we should take every opportunity to do that. Fuel-shifting – transitioning to electric power from fossil fuel – is an easy way to do that.”
Congratulations to the residents and city government of Portola Valley.
The Washington-area writer Mike Lofgren is best known for his books and articles on politics, defense policy, and international relations. He worked for nearly 30 years as a Congressional staffer, mainly for Republicans. In 2012, his prescient book The Party Is Over warned about the developments in Republican-party politics that eventually led to Donald Trump. Another of his well-known books is The Deep State.
Now, in The Washington Monthly, Lofgren argues that it is time to ban hyper-polluting, dangerously noisy lawn equipment. His article is called “The Case for Lawn Care Regulation,” and here is a sample:
“There is little documentation that monitors this activity, but from what I’ve observed over time, fewer people maintain their own lawns than they used to. An aging baby-boomer generation and the rise of dual-income households with little free time are likely causes.
“That means the job is increasingly done by commercial services that use heavy backpack blowers, commercial-grade string trimmers, and mowers suitable for golf courses…. The mowers, with massive engines lacking mufflers, generate far greater perceived noise than consumer-grade mowing equipment.
“By every reasonable standard, the lawn equipment noise problem meets the common law threshold of a persistent nuisance degrading the quiet enjoyment of one’s property. Every time I have raised the issue with local residents, they agree that the commotion is frequently unbearable, but no one looks for a solution. Perhaps they feel it is one of those ever-present annoyances about which nothing can be done, like the gulag experience of airline travel or self-service checkout at Home Depot.”
Lofgren goes on to suggest what a useful response might be. Worth reading in full. Thanks to Lofgren and The Washington Monthly.
This past spring, both the Pew trusts and the federal Centers for Disease Control issued reports about hearing loss, among Americans of all ages, as a rapidly rising public health threat, and about rising levels of ambient noise as a principal cause. Louder and louder urban life—because of sirens, machinery, traffic, even music playing in earbuds or sound in loud public spaces like restaurants—was becoming “the new second-hand smoke,” according to one source quoted in the Pew report:
Noise is “the new secondhand smoke issue,” said Bradley Vite, an anti-noise advocate who pushed for regulations in Elkhart, Indiana, that come with some of the nation’s steepest fines. “It took decades to educate people on the dangers of secondhand smoke. We may need decades to show the impact of secondhand noise.”
Now Jane Brody, veteran personal-health columnist for the New York Times, has an update about the surprisingly ramifying effects of hearing damage. In the popular imagination, hearing problems are often portrayed as inevitable fallibilities of age — “Grandma forgot her hearing aid, so you better talk extra loud.” By contrast, almost everyone recognizes vision-damage as a serious practical and emotional obstacle.
The sub-headline of Brody’s article is, “Poor hearing is not just an annoying inconvenience.” She explains:
Now a growing body of research by [Dr. Frank R. Lin, head of a hearing center at Johns Hopkins] and his colleagues and others is linking untreated hearing loss to several costly ills, and the time has come for hearing protection and treatment of hearing loss to be taken much more seriously….
Two huge new studies have demonstrated a clear association between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk of dementia, depression, falls and even cardiovascular diseases. In a significant number of people, the studies indicate, uncorrected hearing loss itself appears to be the cause of the associated health problem.
The story is worth reading in full, at the NYT’s site.
On December 26, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser signed D.C. Act 22-538, which begins the District’s shift away from hyper-polluting, dangerously noisy, technologically obsolete gas-powered lawn equipment.
The process of community engagement and information-sharing that led to this decision began nearly three and a half years ago, in the fall of 2015. During this past year of 2018, the legislative record was:
- Unanimous approval by the City Council’s “Committee of the Whole”
- Unanimous approval by the entire Council on its “first reading,” or initial passage
- Unanimous approval by the entire Council on its “second reading,” or final passage
- Signature into law by the Mayor
Details will come in this site and elsewhere about sharing information on the hows and whys of speeding adoption of battery-powered equipment, and sharing the District’s experience elsewhere. For now, congratulations and thanks to all involved.
(Screen shot of the signature page, below.}
Note for the record: under the “Taxation Without Representation” regime that governs activities in the District, in theory the U.S. Congress could, within the next 30 days, vote to overturn this Act, as it can with other decisions of the D.C. City Council.
But in practical terms that would require the new House of Representatives, under Democratic control, and the new Senate, still under Republican control, both to approve such an over-turn measure, and then for Donald Trump to sign it. Anything is possible, but the odds of the 116th Congress getting around to this in the next month, when it is still struggling with such basics as funding the federal government, seem vanishingly remote.
The ongoing saga of this site has been the effort to have the District of Columbia, home of the national government, provide a positive example for the nation in mandating a shift from hyper-polluting, outdated gas-powered outdoor equipment to modern battery-powered replacements.
Today, December 28, 2018, that measure was “enacted,” when Mayor Muriel Bowser “returned” to the city council the legislation to that effect that it had unanimously passed.
Thanks and congratulations to Council Member Mary Cheh, who introduced this bill; to Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who scheduled hearings and Council action; to all the other Council members who supported it; and to the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions across the District that offered their support.
Now, on to implementation!
The Audubon Naturalist Society, a long-standing conservationist alliance whose efforts are centered in the Washington D.C. region, has helped in the effort to shift the District away from gas-powered leaf blowers.
Now the ANS newsletter has announced that the organization itself has made the switch. Sample:
Knowing what we do about how important it is to protect wildlife habitat from sensory assault, we at ANS have long been careful to use low outdoor lighting at our Woodend Sanctuary so as not to confuse or harm birds and other animals at night. But, for a long time we have used traditional gas-powered leaf blowers to clear our many driveways, lawns, and pathways, because it’s such a big job that older electric technology wasn’t up to the task. But this fall, in time with our advocacy on the D.C. Council bill, our Property Manager Bjorn Busk made the switch! Check out this video [available at ANS site] of how quiet and effective his new electric battery-powered leaf blower is.
The birds and other animals of the Woodend Sanctuary thank the leadership of ANS, and so do we.