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Guest Opinion

The case against gas-powered lawn equipment


Everyone’s experienced the frustration of listening to the loud roar of lawn care equipment being used nearby, but most Pennsylvanians are likely unaware of the massive amounts of air pollution being released in their proximity at the same time.

Gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed-whackers, chainsaws, snow blowers, and other machines are noisy and polluting, with some machines emitting as much pollution as driving from Pennsylvania to Florida — after just one hour of use.

Pollution from these machines is emitted near homes, schools, and communities, putting our health at risk.

Gas-powered lawn equipment, and especially smaller equipment that often has dirtier two-stroke engines like leaf blowers and weed whackers, emits large amounts of air and climate pollutants. These machines produce fine particulate matter, ozone-forming nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds, which are linked to health problems including asthma, reproductive issues, mental health challenges, cancer and even premature death. This dirty lawn equipment is also a significant source of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.

In a new report, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center found that gas-powered lawn and garden equipment used in Pa. emitted almost 1,000 tons of fine particulate pollution in 2020. This is equivalent to the fine particulate emissions from more than 10 million cars over the course of a year.

Among all states for fine particulate pollution emissions from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, Pennsylvania ranked fourth-worst in the nation. And among all counties, Montgomery ranked 20th worst out of more than 3,100 counties nationwide. To add insult to injury, residents of the Keystone State already face elevated levels of particulate pollution due to Pennsylvania’s fossil fuel industry. The use of gas-powered lawn equipment just adds more fuel to the fire.

Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to accept massive amounts of air pollution and ear-splitting noise as an inevitable byproduct of taking care of our gardens and lawns.

The good news is that we have better alternatives at our fingertips. Electric lawn equipment is increasingly easy to find at major hardware stores and suppliers, with dozens of options for electric mowers, trimmers, and other types of equipment currently on the market. Electric lawn equipment is cleaner, quieter, and easier to use. These electric alternatives are often just as capable as the fossil fuel versions and, over a lifetime of use, are often cheaper.

Hopefully more and more Pennsylvanians will make the switch to electric lawn equipment. The two-stroke engines that are commonly used in gas-powered leaf-blowers, chainsaws, and weed-whackers are the dirtiest and most harmful engines. But they also have the best alternatives available, and the most cost-competitive electric options on the market today. There are also a number of legislative tools at our fingertips that can help to promote cleaner lawn and garden equipment across Pennsylvania.

More than 100 municipalities, cities, and states across the U.S. have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning away from the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in some way. For example, Colorado recently passed a state law which applies discounts and tax credits to reduce the price of electric lawn equipment. Across the river, Maplewood, N.J., now prohibits gas-powered leaf blowers. And Montgomery County, Maryland is banning the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers and leaf vacuums.

There are a number of municipalities that are transitioning away from gas-powered leaf blowers. In the state capitol, State Rep. Shusterman wants to create a Zero Emissions Lawn Care Task Force charged with developing “a plan to phase out gas-powered lawn and garden equipment in Pennsylvania.”

Right now, Pa. has a chance to whack away at our air pollution problem by switching to cleaner, quieter and readily available electric lawn equipment.

Ideally, state officials will support and implement rebates for consumers and businesses to buy this cleaner equipment. It’s time to join the national momentum and phase out these harmful gas-powered machines.

State Rep. Darisha Parker, D-109, represents portions of North Philadelphia. State Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157, represents portions of Chester County. Ellie Kerns is climate and clean energy advocate at PennEnvironment.

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