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U.S. bans on gasoline-powered leaf blowers grow, as does blowback from landscaping industry

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — The roar of the leaf blower has become an inescapable part of daily life in communities across America, leading towns and states to ban or restrict blowers that run on gasoline.

But the measures face blowback from the landscaping industry and some property owners who say that the battery-powered blowers favored by the legislation are costlier and not nearly as effective as the gasoline-powered ones.

“If you look at what this machines does, how loud it is, how much it pollutes, it's not normal to be accepted where we live, where our children play," said Jessica Stolzberg, a writer and crusader against gas-powered leaf blowers who helped get a ban on the machines enacted in her hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.

Since that ban took effect last October, “Montclair has been a healthier, cleaner, quieter community,” she said.

But the ban is being challenged in court by landscapers, she added.

Just as the push to move away from burning fossil fuels to power cars and homes is drawing opposition from business groups and numerous device owners, the move by government to force a switch to battery-powered leaf blowers has the industry complaining of increased costs and decreased performance under the new regulations.

Though several local communities have already enacted full or partial bans on gas-powered leaf blowers, New Jersey is considering banning them statewide. A state Senate committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would ban such blowers most of the year, but would allow ones using four-stroke combustion engines to be used during peak cleanup periods in spring and fall. (Dirtier two-stroke models would be phased out after two years.)

It's a compromise the industry says it is willing to make in the interest of still being able to use the more powerful gas-powered blowers when they are needed most.

“New Jersey is bombarded with leaves and stuff to clean up,” said Rich Goldstein, president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, representing 550 companies in the state. “We’re not California, we’re not Florida. We have leaves. The average house in New Jersey, you take away 30 to 50 cubic feet of leaves each fall. That’s a lot of leaves."

Gas-powered blowers are being targeted by governments across the country. A ban in California starts next month, and similar measures have passed in Washington, D.C., Portland, Oregon; Montgomery County, Maryland; Burlington, Vermont; and Evanston, Illinois, among other places.

Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said more than 100 cities across the U.S. have banned or restricted gas-powered leaf blowers, which he called a major source of pollution. He said using such a blower for an hour creates as much pollution as driving a car for 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers).

But just as the push to move away from burning fossil fuels to power cars and homes is drawing opposition from business groups and numerous device owners, the move by government to force a switch to battery-powered leaf blowers has the industry complaining of increased costs and decreased performance under the new regulations.

“My company, I have $150,000 to $200,000 worth of gas-powered blowers," said Goldstein, head of the New Jersey landscapers' group. “What am I supposed to do, throw them in the garbage?”

New Jersey's proposed bill, like others enacted in several U.S. cities, would provide financial assistance to the industry to defray the cost of purchasing new battery-powered blowers.

Cost is not the only concern, Goldstein said.

“It's retrofitting your truck to be able to charge batteries throughout the day,” he said. "And by doing that, you’d have to keep your diesel engine running, and that causes another issue. This is just a terrible idea.”

He also said two-stroke engines, while less fuel-efficient than four-stroke ones, can do things that the more advanced models can't, such as being turned sideways to reach into hard-to-access places.

Maplewood, New Jersey Mayor Nancy Adams said her community banned gas-powered blowers in January 2023.

“We are living in an age of climate change, and we've known for 100 years that burning more fossil fuel puts more CO2 into the atmosphere,” she said.

Since the ban took place, she said, “Our community is better for it, our quality of life is better.”

Several golf course management and landscaping companies said they support the idea of a gradual transition to battery power, but want more time to phase it in, possibly enabling more powerful battery-powered models to be developed.

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Follow Wayne Parry on X at www.twitter.com/WayneParryAC