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Limited ban on government use of gas-powered lawn equipment approved by Colorado regulators

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Limited ban on government use of gas-powered lawn equipment approved by Colorado regulators

Feb 16, 2024 | 2:41 pm ET
By Chase Woodruff
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Limited ban on government use of gas-powered lawn equipment approved by Colorado regulators
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A person working as a leaf blower walks past an American flag on May 27, 2020, in Old Westbury, New York. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Colorado air-quality regulators approved what advocates hope will be the “first step” towards phasing out the use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment in the state, beginning with a limited set of prohibitions on their use by government agencies.

The new rule, finalized Friday by the Air Quality Control Commission, will bar state agencies from using any gas-powered equipment with an engine of 25 horsepower or less during the summer ozone season from June 1 to Aug. 31. Local governments will be subject to a similar summertime ban, but only within a nine-county Front Range region and only for engines of 10 horsepower or less. Both bans will go into effect in 2025.

Though small, the highly inefficient two-stroke engines in many lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other landscaping tools are a leading source of hazardous air pollutants, especially those that contribute to the Denver area’s longtime ozone problem. Using a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour can emit more pollution than driving an average car for over 1,000 miles, according to statistics from the California Air Resources Board.

“Given the significant pollution generated by gas-powered lawn equipment and the severe air pollution problem in our region, I’m glad the state is taking action to accelerate the switch to cleaner, quieter electric lawn equipment,” said Kirsten Schatz, a clean air advocate with the Colorado Public Interest Research Group. “It doesn’t make sense to allow tons of pollution that damages our health just from cutting grass and blowing leaves around when cleaner, quieter electric options are readily available.”

The AQCC gave initial approval in December to the narrow version of the gas-powered equipment ban, as recommended by air-pollution staff at the state health department, and rejected an alternative rule endorsed by the Regional Air Quality Council, a panel of local government officials and members of the public from the northern Front Range.

The RAQC proposal would have prohibited the sale of gas-powered equipment in the nine-county area and extended the ban to commercial operators in 2026. The rule included a wide range of exemptions, would not have applied to individual residential use and didn’t prescribe any tickets, fines or other enforcement mechanisms for operators that didn’t comply.

But even this “soft” ban was deemed too aggressive by Gov. Jared Polis’ administration and the Democratic governor’s appointees on the AQCC, continuing a long-running pattern of disappointment for activists who have urged the panel to enact stricter pollution rules.

Plans to ban gas-powered equipment through the legislative process in Colorado have also been brushed aside in recent years, though lawmakers have passed a tax credit providing a 30% point-of-sale discount on electric-powered models in an effort to speed up the transition.

A preamble to the new rule adopted by the AQCC on Friday, however, includes a nonbinding suggestion that the Polis administration look to expand its prohibitions by the end of next year.

“The Commission received testimony noting that the market is already trending in this direction and support the acceleration of this market transition,” the rule states. “The Commission expects the (Air Pollution Control) Division to request a rulemaking hearing be held no later than the end of 2025 for commercial use restrictions of gasoline-powered push and hand-held lawn and garden equipment. The Division should also consider whether to include a sales prohibition in its rulemaking request.”