Colorado sets new regulations on gas-powered lawn tools. Clean air advocates say they go no further

Colorado sets new regulations on gas-powered lawn tools.  Clean air advocates say they go no further

Colorado regulators gave preliminary approval to new restrictions on gas-powered lawn and garden equipment on Friday, but the rules fall short of ambitious proposals pushed by some local governments and air quality advocates.

After three days of heated debate, the Air Quality Oversight Commission, an eight-member panel appointed by the governor, gave its initial blessing to rules barring public entities from using smaller gas-powered tools — such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, trimmers and chainsaws. – During the summer starting in 2025.

The new rules apply to local governments, school districts along the Front Range and all state-owned property. The state will now make adjustments to the line before the final vote in February.

Meanwhile, the commission scuttled a proposal to ban Front Range retailers from selling gas-powered portable tools. It also decided not to place any new regulations on commercial landscaping.

“We're going to have to go further and reconsider this,” said Kirsten Schatz, a clean air advocate at the Colorado Public Interest Research Group. “There is a lot more we can do in the next two years, but we are pleased to see the state is on track to take action on this truly harmful form of pollution.”

While the measure represents Colorado's most aggressive effort yet to eliminate pollution from gas-powered equipment, regulators have confirmed that it will be implemented through a “soft enforcement strategy,” meaning violators will face no fines or penalties for not switching to alternatives. electrical.

The new regulations come as the state considers new strategies to reduce ground-level ozone levels in a nine-county region along the Front Range. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated the area as a severely compromised air quality area for repeatedly failing to reduce pollution levels below federal health standards for more than a decade.

While ozone protects against high ultraviolet radiation in the atmosphere, it poses a risk to human health near ground level. Inhaling the well-studied lung irritant — which can be identified as smog and haze every summer — can worsen respiratory problems and shorten life.

Switching to electric lawn equipment can be an essential part of a strategy to clean up an area's air.

This is because gas-powered tools pump out large amounts of nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds, two components that react in the atmosphere to form ozone on hot, sunny days. In fact, state models indicate that tools represent the third-largest source of smog pollution in the Front Range. Projections also indicate that lawn care will be a greater source of ozone components than cars by 2026.

To address this issue, commissioners considered two different proposals. The less aggressive version came from the state's air quality enforcement agency. A more stringent alternative comes from the Regional Air Quality Council, a nonprofit charged with drafting policies to bring the Front Range into compliance with federal air quality standards.

The organization has set a goal to achieve federal compliance by 2027. To reach that goal, it is estimated that the Front Range must reduce its total load of smog pollution by 20 percent compared to current emissions levels.

He included the proposed sales ban as a way to bring the target within reach. In his presentation to commissioners, RAQC Executive Director Mark Silverstein noted that California, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., have all enacted similar policies to help fight air pollution.

But it soon became clear that the policy idea received little interest among the commissioners. The market is already shifting away from gas-powered tools, several members said, noting that Home Depot recently announced it expects 85 percent of the lawn care equipment it sells to be electric by 2028.

There has been more disagreement over whether to place use limits on commercial lawn care companies. Gary Arnold, a union leader who serves as business manager for Denver Pipefitters Local 208, said companies targeted by the proposed regulations were not given enough opportunity to participate.

“This will have a direct impact on people's lives, and we're doing it without any of them in the room,” Arnold said. “That's really what I struggle with the most.”

The comment drew a sharp rebuke from Elise Jones, a former Boulder County commissioner who now serves on the Air Quality Board. Colorado has repeatedly failed to reduce ozone levels by staying away from acting on major sources of smog pollution, she said.

“We need to push a little harder. It's not going to be all easy and comfortable,” Jones said.

The commission ended up voting 5-3 against regulating commercial landscaping, but Jones succeeded in getting a commitment to reconsider the controversy.

In the draft regulation, the commission calls for another rulemaking hearing to consider regulations for commercial lawn care companies no later than the end of 2025. It also directs the state Air Quality Division to monitor sales of electric lawn care tools and reconsider restrictions if the market does not shift away away from fossil fuels quickly enough.

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