Issues: Recommendations Re: Leaf Blower Regulation

by Jim Smith

Although there are many important local issues that deserve our focus, one issue—the regulation of leaf blowers—has generated more public interest and concern over the past year than any other. Town Hall was filled on Tuesday for another leaf blower public hearing.

I must admit this issue has sucked me in—I’ve spent many hundreds of hours researching and testing and talking to experts around the country—so many hours that now I’m getting calls seeking my expert advice. Over the year the draft has shifted (based on resident input) from a year-round ban on gas blowers to a seasonal ban on gas blowers. The question on what to do remains open today.

So what should New Castle do?

In consideration of all the information I’ve collected (some of it captured in my Nov 2018 White Paper and my Demonstration Video), and as someone passionate about the environment, a well-maintained property, and following the facts, I propose the Town Board consider the action I outline below. There are two main themes:

  • Leaf blowers are noisy tools; but the newer the blower, the quieter it tends to be, and the more environmentally friendly it tends to be.  Let’s enact regulation that encourages newer/quieter equipment without a ban, with a special focus on the summer when more people are outdoors.
  • Leaf blower regulation alone never works—if we really want change, we have to work with residents and landscapers to use blowers less and more responsibly. A genuine partnership, led by the Town (and starting on Town property, not exempting Town property) will do more than reduce the impact of blowers; if done correctly and together it can help us address many other environmental concerns as well.    

Interested in the details? Keep reading, Team New Castle loves the details!

(1) Mandate that gas leaf blowers operating in our Town adhere to current EPA exhaust and evaporative emissions standards. The EPA Phase 3 standards starting with 2011/2012 model year equipment reduced emissions by more than 90% from pre-EPA levels.  And after analyzing data collected by the CA Air Resources Board I found that in the years since 2011 gas leaf blower emissions have continued to get even better than the Phase 3 standard—the newer the machine the better it is for the environment.  Is it perfect? No.  I believe electric blowers will one-day replace gas blowers, they are getting so much better, and they are much easier to use and maintain.   

Recommended language: “All leaf blowers must satisfy the requirements of EPA Phase 3 exhaust emissions standards applying to nonroad spark-ignition engines that operate at or below 19 kW.  Such leaf blowers must have affixed an Emissions Control Information Label indicating that the engine meets 2012 or later, U.S. EPA Exhaust and Evaporative emissions standards.” 

Emissions Control Label Example

(2) Mandate that All leaf blowers operating during the summer have a manufacturers rating than is at or below 68 decibels (dBa)The quieter the machine the better it is at addressing all noise and other environmental concerns.  Fall leaf season in our rural town requires larger (and louder) blowers, but summer requirements and use are much less.  I’d need to think more about an appropriate implementation date of this law to be considerate of homeowners who have bought good electric, battery or gas equipment that happens to be a little louder. 

“All leaf blowers shall bear an affixed manufacturer’s label indicating the model number of the leaf blower and designating a noise level in decibels (dB(A)) when measured from a distance of fifty feet utilizing American National Standard Institute B175.2 methodology.

During the period from May 16 through September 15, no leaf blower may be operated if it has a manufacturer’s decibel rating that exceeds 68 dB(A).”

Blower Sound Rating Label Example

(3) Take additional steps to mitigate noise impacts. There are a number of additional, regulatory strategies that help reduce noise. In addition to limits on the time of day leaf blowers can be used, the following can help:

From May 16 through September 15:  No push-behind leaf blowers may be used. And on any one residential parcel located in Town of New Castle, only one leaf blower may be used at a time.

All leaf blowers shall be operated with the mufflers and full extension tubes supplied by the manufacturer for that leaf blower. No person shall operate any leaf blower without attachment of all mufflers, full extension tubes, shrouds and sound attenuating devises supplied by the manufacturer for that leaf blower.

(4) Develop a pro-active and positive working relationship with landscapers.  This is key.  I believe the best landscapers in our community are amongst the best environmental stewards you will find.  Let’s work with them become as green as possible together.  This kind of year-round partnership can really move the dial on environmental issues. Environmentalism cannot be a special interest, it must be everyone’s interest; and for that we need a united not polarized community. 

I would start with a no-cost, voluntary licensing process that helps connect landscapers with the Town.  This enables communications on best practices and education, such as how to reduce fugitive dust by not blowing on loose surfaces or how to reduce noise by blowing hardscapes at half throttle.  Why would landscapers register? Because residents would have access to that list of landscapers so they would know who is willing to work with us to comply with our norms.

(5) The Town should set a good example and become a proving grounds for green practicesBefore the Town tells residents what they should do on their property, the Town should set a good example on their own property.  Seeking the help of landscapers and healthy yards experts, the Town should work to improve its own practices.  A Town park, for example, could become a proving ground for the most environmentally friendly techniques and equipment.  Vendors who have good ideas might even be willing to provide their equipment and services for free to demonstrate their success. There is so much potential!  

Sample Resident Communication

P.S. Any day Town Hall is filled with residents speaking on an issue important to them- and being listened to- is good day in government! Let’s do that again soon. #LetsFixThis