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A look at California's ban on gas-powered appliances | Leaf Probably

If one of the nation’s largest states bans the sale of gasoline-powered lawn care and landscaping equipment, landscaping company owners should definitely take notice, industry officials say. What happens in the Golden State often impacts the rest of the nation.

“It’s not going to stay in California,” says Sandra Giarde, executive director of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). “There’s a significant environmental lobby and they’re going to want to replicate that everywhere.”

The law, which went into effect in October, directs the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to issue regulations banning the sale of new gasoline-powered lawn tools, including mowers, handhelds and all new gas-powered equipment with small off-road engines, by 2024 or whenever possible. Businesses can continue to use existing non-electrical equipment.

Assemblyman Marc Berman, a Democrat representing Silicon Valley’s Menlo Park, argues the law is necessary to combat global warming and protect landscape industry workers.

“Blowers, lawn mowers, and other small gas-powered engines emit amazing levels of air pollution,” says Berman. “These noisy machines are terribly disruptive to communities across California, and the workers who breathe exhaust fumes from these machines every day are exposed to disproportionate health risks.”

The CLCA and the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) argue that the law doesn’t account for landscaping contractors, and they argue that battery-powered, off-the-shelf devices aren’t powerful enough or last long enough on a charge to be practical for years to come.

incentive dollars

Berman notes that the legislation provides $30 million to fund equipment upgrades for small businesses, and CARB has other grant programs that could offset the cost of upgrading from gas to electric.

NALP Vice President for Government Relations Andrew Bray and Giarde say this is far from enough. There are approximately 12,000 licensed lawn care businesses in California and three times as many unlicensed ones. Every company has several gas-powered tools, so $30 million doesn’t go very far, Giarde says.

“Theoretically, CARB has more money, but there are already many donations for these funds,” says Giarde, referring to funding programs for reducing emissions in ports, for commercial truck fleets or for farms. “I have no confidence that the industry will see more than the $30 million already allocated.”

CARB power

California’s Air Resources Board is arguably the second most powerful environmental agency in the country, after the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CARB has for decades set stricter emissions regulations for cars and trucks than the EPA, and more than a dozen states are copying those regulations, putting more than half of Americans under CARB regulations.

Landscaping industry associations in northeastern states like Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania say they haven’t seen legislation calling for similar laws outside of California.

According to Bray, every landscape professional in the country should be aware of the issue and politely share their concerns with elected officials if they see local or state bans moving into their areas.

Opportunities abound

Bray and Girade are right to have concerns about how this new law will affect the industry, but many OEM manufacturers of battery-powered devices say they see the adversity in California as an opportunity for green industries across the country to capitalize on To respond to demands made by municipalities, companies and universities for quieter and lower-emission devices. Roger Phelps, communications manager at Stihl, says being proactive opens up new opportunities for the industry.

“If a landscaper wants to continue doing business, they have to adapt,” he says. “I think a lot of landscapers offer both (gas and battery powered) and that keeps them really competitive in the market. We offer our gas service or if you would like us to operate before 9am we have that due to our battery powered equipment. We’re going to spin off an entire business.”

According to Keith Coultrap, director of professional products at Husqvarna, it is this increased focus on sustainability and the environmental impact of gas-powered equipment that is pushing these communities to reconsider the use of equipment.

“States, cities and communities across the country are working to reduce their impact on the environment, including efforts related to lawn care and landscaping,” he says. “California’s new gas-powered lawn equipment law presents both challenges and opportunities to the industry.”

Phelps also says it’s these opportunities with battery-powered devices that can turn a challenge into an advantage for a labor-shortaged industry looking for workers to keep up with demand for services.

“One of our fastest growing customers is state parks,” he says. “We have a great relationship with America’s state parks. They rely heavily on seasonal work. You can’t really rely on seasonal workers to start the gear properly or learn how to mix two-stroke fuel. I give them a device; I give them a battery. Press the button. How many bars, insert battery, pull trigger. You are done. It’s not that easy.”

Phelps says this ease of use is enticing many landscaping contractors to look deeply into battery-powered equipment.

“Landscapers say, ‘Wow! It’s easier to use,’” he says. “It has all the market advantages, low emissions, low noise. As we see fuel prices soar to $4 a gallon, suddenly 5 cents an hour is looking pretty good for your watt-hours. I definitely see more professionals moving into this space, not necessarily because they’re forced to, but because they know the numbers and have found it to be beneficial to their business.”

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