Phasing out air pollutants has long been a concern of the South Pasadena City Council, and the effort just magnified with an effort to phase out the sale of new gas-powered small off-road engines.
Small Off-Road Engines (SORE) are spark-ignition devices, primarily used in lawn and garden equipment, including leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and other power equipment.
Oxides of Nitrogen (NOx), reactive organic gases, and particulate matter are just some of the emissions emitted by SORE, explained South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud in a letter addressed to State Senator Anthony J. Portantino, urging the passage of Assembly Bill 1346.
California Assembly member Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) introduced the legislation that could eventually be signed into law to help lower pollution levels and ear-splitting noise from the machines.
“If the state does not take action, emission levels from small engines are expected to increase,” wrote Mahmud in her letter to the senator. “By 2031, small engine emissions will be more than twice those from passenger cars. There are zero-emission equivalents to all SORE that are regulated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), electric alternatives that run on batteries or plug into an outlet.”
The mayor explained that passage of AB-1346 would require CARB to adopt regulations designed to prohibit engine exhaust and evaporative emissions from new small off-road engines by July 1, 2022. She stressed that ensuring they are cost effective and technologically feasible is key. “New regulations would apply to engines produced on or after January 1, 2024, or as soon as CARB determines it is feasible, whichever is later,” she wrote in her letter.
The South Pasadena mayor noted in her correspondence that half of household users in the state have already started to transition to zero-emission equipment.
South Pasadena Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti said the state’s daily NOx and ROG emissions from SORE in 2021 will be higher than light-duty passenger cars. “If we don’t do something about it soon, emission levels from small engines will only increase,” he insisted. “As health experts have indicated, whether it’s nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases and others are emitted with very few emission controls.
These emissions are in your yard, in your neighborhood as you’re walking your dogs through our streets. The internal combustion engines on the backs of independent gardeners for use by leaf-blowers is just one of their uses. They are also found on mowers, weed whackers and other equipment and we just have to do something about them for the health of those using them and others facing toxic risk of emissions.
The cumulative effect on workers, families, neighbors, and pets has a very harmful impact whether its lung disease, cardiovascular disease, attacking the nervous system and the brain, causing dementia. The loud sounds from these devices also cause significant damage to our ears. A ban on their use will cut down on the dependence of foreign oil, parts like spark plugs, filters, and large amounts of gasoline. Think about all these parts taking up our landfills. This bill’s approval would reduce all that. Ultimately, our gardeners would be saving so much by going all electric with maintenance equipment.”
Cacciotti, an environmentalist who also serves as a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, offered his input on the letter before it was mailed to Portantino’s State Capitol office. Like Mahumd, he said operating a gas-powered commercial leaf blower for one hour is equivalent to emitting air pollutants to driving a 2017 Toyota Camry from Los Angeles to Denver.
The City of South Pasadena’s Natural Resources and Environmental Commission (NREC) strongly supports a proposed ordinance before the council to ban gas-powered leaf blowers. The loudness of the devices used by independent gardeners throughout town is of major commission concern, said Bill Kelly, one of it members, noting: “They start at 8 a.m. in all our neighborhoods and they run them pretty much all day long. The emissions are a problem for the health of the gardeners, first and foremost, as they are up close breathing the highest concentration, hearing the noise, and are the most impacted by it. I think we feel on the commission that we can cut down emissions through a rebate program offering substantial discounts on electric maintenance equipment through the AQMD. I think most of the gardeners can do it as we educate them about the health benefits. They will actually be saving money in the long run after making the upfront investment.”
Help can come from homeowners allowing gardeners to use outlets to recharge batteries, suggested Kelly, adding: “It only costs a few pennies for the electricity. We can all pitch in. It seems like it a better way to go for all those concerned.”
AB-1346 urges Californians, insisted Mahmud, to look far beyond vehicles when it comes to reducing harmful emissions and achieve the state’s goals necessary to meet environmental mandates, “fight climate change, and improve health in our communities by reducing air pollution,” she said.
The bill has gone through the Assembly and the Senate, the Environmental Quality Committee (5-2 vote in favor), and now has been referred to the Appropriations Committee for funding before it heads to the Senate floor.
“It’s important that we get some money behind it to really educate the public that in the long run the total cost of ownership of electric equipment is going to be less,” said Cacciotti, explaining that Portantino, whose district represents South Pasadena, is the chair of Appropriations. “He’s a very responsible legislator and we’re hoping to set up a meeting with him regarding AB-1346 in the near future.”
As a result of strong environmental efforts by the mayor, Cacciotti, and commissions over the years like the NREC, the citizenry of South Pasadena knows the importance of clean air and the health and safety of the community. In her letter to Portantino, Mahmud pointed out that in 2005 “the city adopted a low emission vehicle purchasing policy to promote the procurement and use of low emission vehicles in the City of South Pasadena motor vehicle fleet.”
In 2016, South Pasadena was recognized as the nation’s first American Green Zone Alliance city, earning recognition for maintaining all of its municipal parks, properties and medians with all-electric equipment.
“The city continues to lead initiatives to help reduce harmful pollutants and improve air quality,” Mahmud said in the letter to the senator, adding that the city recently initiated an ordinance to prohibit the use of gas-powered leaf blowers.
“For these reasons and more, the City of South Pasadena supports AB-1346 and urges your ‘aye’ vote,” she concluded in her message to Portantino.
Assemblymember Berman echoed Mahmud’s concerns in a statement regarding the importance of phasing out gasoline-fueled SORE. “Smog-forming emissions from small engines will surpass those from passenger vehicles this year,” he said. “We must look beyond transportation if we are to achieve the emissions reductions needed to fight climate change and improve air quality and health in our communities.”