by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition, and Jamie L. Banks, PhD, MS, Executive Director, Quiet Communities, Inc., Co-Founder, The Quiet Coalition

A new California law, AB 1346, phases out the sale of new small off-road gasoline engines. The law, based on concerns over harmful air pollution in the state, affects gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, small generators, and other small gasoline-powered engines. Regulations from the California Air Resources Board require new lawn and garden equipment to be zero emissions, i.e., battery-powered, by 2024. A $30 million pool of funding is available to provide rebates and incentives to commercial landscapers for the purchase of zero emissions, battery-powered equipment.

· How may this affect other states? Read more.

Many handheld lawn and garden tools–-like leaf blowers, trimmers, and saws–are powered by inefficient two-stroke engines that emit high levels of toxic and carcinogenic exhaust, including ozone-forming chemicals and fine particulate matter. As CARB noted:

Despite their small size, these engines are highly polluting. The volume of smog-forming emissions from this type of equipment has surpassed emissions from light-duty passenger cars and is projected to be nearly twice those of passenger cars by 2031. Today, a commercial operator using one backpack leaf blower for one hour generates the same smog-forming emissions as a car driving 1100 miles. These regulations will reduce emissions of smog-forming emissions by 72 tons per day.

Lawn mowers operate on four-stroke engines that are cleaner but account for the majority of carbon dioxide emissions from lawn and garden equipment.

Most gas lawn and garden equipment also produce harmful levels of noise that can be heard over long distances because of strong low frequency components. During the pandemic, more Americans–either working or attending school at home–came to appreciate exactly how disruptive this noise can be.

In the short term, achieving zero emissions landscaping is challenging. The law does not prohibit the use of older gas equipment or the purchase of gas equipment in other states. Landscapers need to be educated and trained on the safe and proper use, storage, and charging of battery-electric equipment. As for EVs, battery repurposing and recycling issues must be addressed, as current supply chain and chip shortages may limit the availability of battery-powered lawn and garden equipment and increase costs. We hope these issues can be surmounted.

California’s AB 1346 is a major milestone. We are hopeful that it will help make California’s air cleaner, and are especially hopeful it will make its communities quieter, too.