Gasoline lawn mowers and leaf blowers will soon be a thing of the past in California. Governor Gavin Newsom has enacted a bill banning the sale of small internal combustion engines primarily used in lawn and garden equipment, starting in 2024.
The new law, written by MP Marc Berman of Menlo Park, will offer discounts to consumers for the purchase of electrical replacements, and it builds on previous regulations already underway within the state’s air regulator, the California Air Resources Board, better known as CARB. Elimination will begin as soon as possible or by January 1, 2024, whichever is later.
“Currently, there are zero emission equivalents for all [small off-road engine] equipment regulated by the State Air Resources Board ”, specifies the law. “The battery technology required for commercial grade zero emission equipment is available and many users, commercial and residential, have already started to switch to zero emission equipment. ”
Lawn mowers and leaf blowers are exceptional polluters. Their small engines spew out disproportionate amounts of smog-generating NOX, carcinogenic volatile organic compounds and particles harmful to the lungs. Running a gasoline leaf blower for an hour produces as many volatile organic compounds and NOX as driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from New York to Orlando, Florida, state officials say to say.
Millions of engines
California is littered with lawn equipment and gasoline generators, totaling more than 16.7 million people statewide. For comparison, there are about 35 million state-registered cars, trucks and semi-trailers. Although the law does not mention go-karts or golf carts, those that make less than 25 hp (18.6 kW) are already regulated under the regime of the small off-road engines of the CARB. More powerful engines are subject to spark ignition regulations.
Small engines were essentially unregulated before 1990 in California and 1995 elsewhere, and new limits have reduced pollution from small engines over the past two decades. But as recently as last year, small engines produced more NOX and VOC pollution in California as passenger vehicles.
Even under recent EPA regulations, people using lawn and garden equipment are exposed to certain pollutants at potentially harmful levels. Fine particles (PM2.5) and carbon monoxide were the worst offenders in a 2006 study. Even homeowners using the equipment for about an hour would, under certain conditions, be exposed to pollution levels exceeding national air quality standards for a 24 hour period.
The new law calls for not only tailpipe emissions, but also those from fuel tanks, where evaporation of gasoline can release large amounts of benzene and other dangerous compounds. Together, evaporative emissions represent approximately 35 percent 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 manufacturers like Kawasaki and Yamaha were fined by CARB or reached settlements for non-compliance with state regulations.
The new law comes as electrical lawn and garden equipment is increasingly competitive with gasoline-powered versions. The best battery-powered lawn mowers, for example, receive almost the same scores at Consumer reports. Several manufacturers even offer battery-powered riding mowers that can mow two acres per charge while requiring much less maintenance.