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Colorado wants to curtail use of gas-powered lawn equipment in bid to clean the air. But how far will state go?

State commission could ban sales of new gas lawnmowers, other equipment along Front Range beginning in 2025

David Coates clears the snow from his driveway with a leaf blower at Lake Arbor in Arvada, Colorado on October 29, 2019. (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post)
David Coates clears the snow from his driveway with a leaf blower at Lake Arbor in Arvada, Colorado on October 29, 2019. (Photo by Joe Amon/The Denver Post)
Noelle Phillips of The Denver Post.

Colorado wants to curtail the use of gas-powered lawnmowers, chainsaws, leaf blowers and other hand-held lawn and garden equipment, but just how expansive restrictions will be rests with an eight-member commission charged with regulating air pollution in the state.

On Wednesday, the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission will consider two proposals — including a potential ban on the sale of new gas-powered lawn equipment along the Front Range — as part of its efforts to clean the air. One proposal was created by a state agency, the Air Pollution Control Division, and the other was written by a nonprofit whose board is appointed by the governor: the Regional Air Quality Council.

Gas-powered lawn and garden equipment contributes to the poor air quality along the Front Range because those tools release tons of volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides — two key ingredients in the ground-level ozone pollution that is particularly bad on hot summer days, when that equipment is most likely to be in use.

The air quality council’s plan would essentially phase out gas-powered equipment usage along the Front Range, while the state’s proposal would impose minor statewide limitations but largely allow landscaping companies and homeowners to continue working with gas-powered equipment.

The Air Quality Control Commission could pick either plan or adopt a combination of the two.

Environmentalists are pushing for the more stringent restrictions, saying the Front Range’s air quality is so poor the commission cannot afford to take small steps. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency designated a nine-county area along the northern Front Range as being in severe non-attainment of federal air quality standards, leading to more governmental regulations in the region.

“Ultimately we shouldn’t have the dirtiest, most polluting equipment on store shelves,” said Kirsten Schatz, clean air advocate for the Colorado Public Interest Research Group. “That equipment for sale now could last 10 or 12 years. It’s important we get the dirtiest equipment off of the store shelves as quickly as possible.”

The Regional Air Quality Council’s proposal would impose the most restrictions.

Under that plan, a prohibition on the sale of gas-powered equipment would begin in 2025 in the nine-county region that stretches from Douglas County in the south to Larimer and Weld counties in the north. The plan also would restrict government agencies, school districts, colleges and universities, and other special districts from using small, gas-powered equipment starting in 2025.

A restriction on usage by commercial operators and homeowners’ associations would go into effect in 2026, according to an outline of the plan provided by the air quality council.

Private residents would not be banned from owning or using gas lawnmowers and other equipment. But over time, as sales became limited, that equipment would be phased out, said David Sabados, a Regional Air Quality Council spokesman.

“We aren’t going around to round up gas mowers out of people’s garages,” he said.

Under the proposal written by the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, there would be no sales prohibition anywhere in Colorado. But it would ban state government agencies from using the equipment during the summer starting in 2025, and it would ban city and county governments along the Front Range from using the gas-powered lawn equipment beginning in 2026.

That plan would have a limited impact on increasing the use of electric equipment in Colorado because government restrictions on gas-powered equipment already are coming.

In September, Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order that requires state-owned facilities to phase out gas-powered equipment such as push mowers, leaf blowers, weed whackers and other small equipment.

The governor wrote in the executive order that those things create high levels of hazardous air pollutants.

“These ‘nonroad’ emissions significantly contribute to air pollution, raising concerns about the impacts on public health,” the order stated. “Gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment is also exceedingly loud contributing to noise pollution as well as air pollution.”

So far, Colorado has targeted the transportation sector and the oil and gas industry for reductions in greenhouse gasses and other air pollution. Limiting gas-powered lawn and garden equipment is a new strategy that could result in quick improvements in air quality, Sabados said.

A recent report from the Colorado Public Interest Research Group estimated that gas-powered lawnmowers, string trimmers, leaf blowers, chainsaws and other garden tools generated 671 tons of fine particulate matter pollution in 2020, which is equivalent to the amount produced by 7 million cars in a year.

The machines also contributed an estimated 9,811 tons of volatile organic compounds and 1,969 tons of nitrogen oxides — the same amount emitted by 880,554 cars — into the air in a single year, according to the report, which used EPA data.

“When it comes to lawn and garden equipment, these tools emit an astonishing amount of harmful pollution,” Schatz said. “We can cut a significant amount in a short period of time.”

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