As we all know, achieving California’s climate goals will require the comprehensive replacement of internal combustion engines with electric motors, and state law is currently pushing fossil-fueled automobiles out of the market. Now, landscaping equipment powered by “small off-road engines” (“SORE”) needs the same treatment. Data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) makes clear that these engines are shockingly dirty and dangerous. With their ubiquity and relative lack of emissions controls, they now produce more smog-forming air pollution than all passenger cars in the state combined. Running a single leaf blower for one hour can produce criteria pollutants comparable to driving a Toyota Camry 1100 miles!

Reining in these engines is a climate, health, and environmental justice issue. Our state has some of the worst air quality in the country, and this pollution is concentrated in low-income communities of color. The South Coast Air Basin and the San Joaquin Valley Air Basins both fail to meet federal air quality standards for particulate matter (soot). SORE emissions exacerbate this pollution and contribute to adverse health outcomes, including respiratory symptoms, lung tissue damage, and lung disease. Gas-powered landscaping equipment is also particularly harmful to the workers operating them, as they handle their petrochemical lubricants and fuels, breathe their noxious fumes, and endure their extreme noise, all for little pay (Stewart 2021). 

The opportunity is ripe to replace these outdated, dirty engines with clean equipment. Electric alternatives are available and suitable for both small-scale and commercial-scale work (Stewart 2021). Political support is also growing:  Earlier this year, Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-79-20 called for zero emissions from off-road equipment by 2035. And now, 350 Bay Area Action is excited to support AB 1346 (Berman and Gonzalez), which would direct CARB to ban the sale of new SORE as early as 2024 and to establish incentives to aid in a quick transition to electric equipment. Many air districts already provide robust rebate programs of this kind: Eight districts offer residential rebates, while Santa Barbara, San Joaquin Valley, and the South Coast offer commercial rebates. For example, San Joaquin Valley Air District offers vouchers worth up to 70% of the purchase price for a variety of landscape maintenance equipment and up to 100% of the purchase price for additional batteries and chargers.

We must act quickly to mitigate climate change and the negative environmental, health, and justice consequences of air pollution. AB 1346 presents a major opportunity to advance all of these goals simultaneously on a new front. 

In Solidarity and Action,

Lindsay Recker, Andrew Jaeger, and Clair Brown, 350 Bay Area Action Legislative Team

For actionable items check out the 350BAA toolkit: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QqD2fOU_yh4yXVvzC4FwsSpqF9t_p-XU/view?usp=sharing 

REFERENCES:

Opponents-Far West Equipment Dealers Association, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, Portable Generator Manufacturers Association

California Air Resources Board. “Small Engines in California – Fact Sheet” https://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/offroad/sore/sm_en_fs.pdf

Stewart, Brian. 2021. “The Fully Electric Future of Landscape Maintenance.’ Cleantechnica. https://cleantechnica.com/2021/06/19/the-fully-electric-future-of-landscape-maintenance/