Gas leaf blowers are a convenient and fast way to clear debris; they are also excessively dirty and noisy machines that damage the environment and contribute to climate change.
The Seattle City Council is right to get rid of them — the sooner the better for any city department — but the phased ban must include a financial incentive to help small businesses make the transition.
Last month, the council’s sustainability committee voted to advance a resolution proposed by Councilmember Alex Pedersen that would phase out gas-powered blowers for city departments and contractors by 2025, and for businesses and residents by 2027.
One hour of running a gas leaf blower can contribute as much smog-forming pollution as driving a passenger car about 1,100 miles, roughly the distance from Los Angeles to Seattle, according to the California Air Resources Board. As Pedersen’s resolution points out, the blowers have two-stroke engines that “incompletely combust their fuel, resulting in the emission of toxic and carcinogenic substances.”
For a city that prides itself in taking climate change seriously, getting rid of these machines should be an easy choice, but if anything, Seattle has doubled down on the fossil-fuel blowers.
As reported by The Seattle Times’ Daniel Beekman, in 2014 the council asked the city’s construction and inspections department to develop recommendations that would reduce noise and emissions from gas-powered leaf blowers. Since then, the number of gas blowers owned by city departments has only increased, even as the electric models have improved to be almost on par for power output — although they’re not quite there when it comes to wet leaves.
Wisely, the resolution asks city departments to prepare racial equity analysis of the change and consult those who would be economically affected. A report commissioned by Pedersen found that almost 50% of workers that depend on gas-powered leaf blowers identify as Hispanic. While larger businesses would be able to absorb costs involved in a switch-over, smaller landscapers would feel a disproportionate impact.
That harm must be mitigated through financial incentives. While the council should help, it should also look to statewide efforts for support. Last session, a bill proposed by state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, would have created discounts of up to $200 for the purchase of electric lawn-care equipment. That bill died in committee, but it is worth taking up again next year.
Going electric also helps those who regularly use the equipment, which not only contributes to climate change but can also cause or worsen respiratory illnesses and hearing loss.
Convenience is important, but the cost of gas-powered blowers is too high. It’s time to put them away for good.