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AB 1346: California Moves to Ban Small Gas-Powered Engines

by kirkcoburn
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California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in October 2021 that means new small off-road engines (SORE) must be zero-emission by 2024. CA AB 1346 comes with $30 million in funding meant to aid this transition somehow.

California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, one of the authors of the bill, said:

 “Small gas engines are not only bad for our environment and contributing to our climate crisis, they [can cause various] health issues for workers who use them.” She went on to say, “It’s time we phased out these super polluters.”

But small business owners in the state are disturbed. Residents worry about the additional load this will put on their already inadequate energy grid. If you read our previous piece about lithium mining and the tolls it places on the environment, you know energy storage has significant social and environmental risks. 

Today, we’ll cover the list of equipment meant to be affected by the ban and some manufacturers’ reactions to it. California is currently ranked as the fifth-largest economy globally — greater than Great Britain or India, as examples — so this will be a key issue for equipment manufacturers moving forward if they want to do business with consumers in the Golden State.

The SORE List of Items to Be Banned

Per the California Air Resources Board (CARB, a division of the California EPA), “Small Off-Road Engines (SORE) are spark-ignition engines rated at or below 19 kilowatts.” Equipment in this category includes any small, gasoline-powered engines used in off-road equipment, specialty tools, and lawn care/landscaping equipment.

Familiar examples of SORE include:

  • Lawnmowers
  • Leaf blowers
  • Chainsaws
  • Snowblowers
  • Weed eaters 
  • Private generators

Smaller off-road dirt bikes, quads, or utility vehicles could also be subject to AB 1346. Agricultural groups feel it’s an attack on family farming. But it takes aim at lawn and landscaping equipment.

Small Engines Population in CA, According to CARB

CARB’s website says:

  • The number of SORE in CA (15.4 million) is more than passenger cars (14.0 million) in the state.
  • The majority (61%) of California SORE include residential lawn and garden equipment.
  • 8% of it is commercial lawn and garden equipment — and this small amount is supposedly responsible for 20% of the smog-forming emissions during the summer months.
  • 11% of CA’s SORE are found at federally regulated construction sites or used as farming equipment.
  • 20% of SORE includes “other equipment,” like private use generators. 

CARB also says that operating a leaf blower for one hour in your yard creates the same amount of emissions as driving a standard passenger car 1,100 miles. 

We’re calling bulls**t on that.

Critical Thinking: Call Bulls**t on CARB’s Questionable Statistics

We found the estimated emissions CARB associates with residential leaf blowers hard to believe. Guess what? The math doesn’t work out.

CARB says you’ll generate more emissions using a leaf blower for three hours than driving from NYC to LA (2,700 miles, at least 36 hours of driving). The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says a modern passenger car, at 22 miles per gallon, emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide driving 11,500 miles. That’s upwards of 10,000 pounds of emissions in an average year for the American commuter.

  • Now, 2,700 miles is roughly one fourth of 11,500 miles. (11,500 / 2,700 = 4.25…)
  • And one-fourth of 10,000 pounds of emissions would be 2,500 pounds. 
  • Therefore, a 2,700-mile drive should generate roughly 2,500 pounds of emissions. And your little leaf blower can create more?

Forget about three hours. You could run your residential leaf blower all day and all night, all weekend long, and not create 2,500 pounds of emissions!

  • Even if you blew through 50 gallons of gas (refilling your larger 40-ounce reservoir hundreds of times, night and day), you couldn’t do it.
  • Matter can change state, but that doesn’t create more of it.
  • Your residential leaf blower would need to exhale something really heavy, like concrete, for three hours to achieve the numbers marketed by CARB.

We hope someone has the sense to call out CARB on their ridiculous estimates. In the meantime, CA-AB 1346 will move forward. Let’s find out what everyone else has to say about it. 

What Everyone Is Saying About the SORE Ban

Night long exposure photograph of the Santa Clarita wildfire in CA

From tool manufacturers to professional landscapers, the small engine ban will affect many Californians. 

Many Tool and Equipment Manufacturers Seem to Be On Board

As the US population grows, the demand for lawn equipment grows, as well. Stanley Black & Decker claims to be ahead of the curve. They estimate the demand for electric-powered lawn equipment in North America has jumped from roughly nine million units in 2015 to 16 million in 2020. That’s a 75% growth in five years, regardless of the pandemic.

Another well-known equipment manufacturer, Makita, says it will “cease production of all gas-powered equipment worldwide” in light of the bill. That’s a big statement. Makita has plants in 50 countries, and they produce 80% of their US offerings overseas. 

It’s as if tool manufacturers are saying, “We get it. Gasoline is out. Electric is in. We are on board.”

But gas-powered generator manufacturers feel differently. 

Portable Generator Manufacturers Association (PGMA) Fought the Bill 

As reported by Business Wire in August 2021, portable generator makers are firmly against the bill. That’s because AB 1346 assumes that portable generators could be replaced with zero-emission equipment (ZEE) generators.

The problem, says PGMA, is that ZEE generators rely on battery power and electricity to charge them — electricity that isn’t available during a power outage or natural disaster. They become ineffective when needed most!

Cost is another problem, according to PGMA. ZEE generators can cost twenty times more than portable gas-powered generators. But they have a very limited charge. Also, once the batteries discharge during a natural disaster, consumers cannot recharge them without a solar array or battery backup.

Portable Generator Population

As of 2021, roughly 1.5 million portable generators exist in California. They’re practically a staple for residents who face wildfire or earthquake risks and frequent rolling blackouts set forth by power companies as they try to limit fire risks and ease the load on the grid. During those times, Californians used their portable generators to power refrigerators, wells, life-sustaining medical equipment, and climate controls. 

  • Now, portable gas generators can easily manage the average residential energy load needed by homeowners during a planned blackout for ten hours, maybe more.
  • We’re talking about household refrigerators, freezers, air conditioning, maybe a load of laundry.
  • Yes, generators can run out of gas.
  • But once refilled with gasoline, they’re good for ten more hours.

But a comparable, compliant ZEE unit will only power the usual home for a short time, maybe 40 minutes to three hours. Users cannot recharge it without tapping shore electricity or a big battery. This could be life-threatening for individuals with medical conditions that rely on medical equipment in their homes to run through a blackout. 

But regardless of that, it seems like most health advocacy groups are on board with AB 1346.

The American Lung Association (ALA) Is On Board With AB 1346

Will Barrett, senior director of clean air advocacy with ALA, says, “Californians face the most difficult air pollution challenges in the [US], and small off-road engines are a growing source of this health burden.” He went on to praise Governor Newsom for “accelerating a zero-emissions pathway to healthier air and healthier lungs.”

Finally, let’s turn our thoughts to California’s landscapers, gardeners, and laborers. These folks use gas-powered lawn equipment for a living.

Landscapers and Gardeners Are Against AB 1346

Miguel Rojas, the owner of an LA-area landscaping company, told the California Globe that he believes landscapers should be able to choose the tools that work best for them. He believes that landscapers will smuggle them in from other states or Mexico or just rebuild the small engines already in the state. 

“My crews prefer different things, sometimes based on the neighborhood.” Said Rojas. “Some [crews] like gas, some like electric, some don’t care. But now they’re trying to get us not to use certain ones? That’s idiotic.”

And after doing the math, we cannot agree more.

This Is a Great Time to Stock Up on SORES Equipment

Suppose you’re particularly interested in mechanics, comfortable in a garage, and eager to rebuild your small engine equipment. Well, that’s awesome! But this is still an excellent time to stock up on new or used lawn equipment, especially if your livelihood depends on it!

But California Is Moving On

The truth is, it’s only a matter of time before any technology we adopt becomes obsolete. Whether it’s an antique oil lamp, a horseless carriage, or a gas-powered leaf blower, there will come a day when only the elderly can remember them as everyday items or operate them properly.

The few remaining specimens will be admired; maybe they’ll go to a museum for future generations to marvel at. Also, your leaf blower is about to become a collectible. 

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