2021 | Government

County to consider banning gas-powered leaf blowers

Prohibition is part of climate action goals

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Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and his administration plan to propose a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers countywide.

The Department of Environmental Protection and others hope to finalize the proposal within the next few months, said Adriana Hochberg, an assistant chief administrative officer who was recently named the county’s first climate change officer.

The proposal is outlined in the county’s fiscal year Climate Work Plan for fiscal year 2022: “Introduce legislation to ban the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blower equipment.”

The Climate Work Plan is a guide on how the county will address climate change in the immediate future, and part of the broader Climate Action Plan — a proposal that aims to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in the county by 2035 and cut them 80% by 2027.

The leaf-blower legislation has multiple purposes, Hochberg wrote in an email.

“Eliminating the use of gas-powered leaf blowers not only helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it also helps improve the health of landscape workers and those within listening range of the blowers,” she wrote.

Some, however, feel the proposal would hinder small lawn-care businesses, especially given the challenges of the pandemic. 

Reardon Sullivan, chair of the county’s Republican Central Committee, said in an interview that electric-powered equipment could cost businesses money and time if they have to constantly recharge leaf blowers, instead of using gasoline.

“The operational inefficiency — that’s never going to go away,” Sullivan said. “So, if you have to charge the [equipment], and if you can only send the crew out for four to six hours, whereas before you could send the crew out for eight to 10 hours in the summertime, your operational efficiency is going way down.”

The county said earlier this year that recharging lawn equipment, especially mowers, was the biggest challenge of switching to electric power so far. The county’s Department of Transportation started a pilot program with an all-electric mowing crew, including a mower, a trimmer and a leaf blower.

Hochberg said the new legislation will only apply to leaf blowers, despite speculation and an apparent proposal circulating about banning the use and sale of all gas-powered equipment.

The proposal shows an amendment to county code that would eventually ban the sale of “combustion-powered engine lawn mowers, string trimmers and edgers” by 2023, and the use of them by 2025. But Hochberg said Tuesday the county’s proposal would only apply to leaf blowers.

“There are many drafts and ideas that go into a proposed piece of legislation that may be considered, but until final decisions are decided, these ideas and concepts are considered part of [the] process of deliberation,” Hochberg wrote. “There are no current nor immediate considerations to propose policies on lawn mowers as part of any potential legislation.”

There has been previous debate countywide about such a proposal. Earlier this year, Bethesda resident Quentin Gaudry started an online petition, signed by more than 5,900 people, requesting the gas-powered leafblower ban.

But Larry Will, vice president of engineering at Echo Inc. in Lake Zurich, Ill. — a top manufacturer of gas-powered leaf blowers — wrote in a letter to Elrich and the County Council in March that the technology surrounding the noise of gas-powered leaf blowers has improved significantly, along with the hydrocarbon emissions those devices emit.

“Do I want to preserve the gasoline-powered leaf blower? Yes! But only because I see that banning it is unnecessary since noise is the issue and quiet gasoline powered leaf blowers are available from several manufacturers. … In time, when battery-powered units have sufficient power and performance, they will replace gasoline power by their own merits,” Will wrote.

The town of Chevy Chase passed a similar ban last year.

Mayor Barney Rush said in an interview that the town currently bans the use of gas-powered leaf blowers at certain times during the day. Rush added that beginning Jan. 1, 2022, there will be a full ban on them except for the fall months, when a need for them is higher. 

The town allocated $15,000 to 20,000 to help residents offset the cost of switching from gas-powered leaf blowers, Rush said. Residents were interested in the ban because of the noise, and environmental and health concerns for workers, he added.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com