It's D.C.'s final autumn with the grating symphony of gas-powered leaf blowers There are now rebates for businesses and residents that still need to make a switch to battery-powered or electric blowers.
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It's D.C.'s final autumn with the grating symphony of gas-powered leaf blowers

Savor (or endure) the sounds of the gas-powered leaf blower while you still can —D.C.'s ban on their use and sale takes effect in 2022. Grahford/Flickr / https://n.pr/3CLFlpC hide caption

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Grahford/Flickr / https://n.pr/3CLFlpC

After colorful foliage falls from trees in D.C., the roaring, monotonous symphony of gas-powered leaf blowers typically follows.

But as the D.C. government gets ready to implement a ban on the use or sale of gas-powered leaf blowers at the start of 2022, this will be the final fall that the particular noise and fumes from the equipment will exist without the potential for a $500 fine. The city just introduced a rebate program to help people switch from gas-powered blowers to electric alternatives.

"Ten years from now, people will marvel that these things were ever used," says James Fallows, a longtime D.C. resident who helped advocate for the ban. He has also written about his efforts in The Atlantic.

When a group of residents concentrated in Ward 3 began to attend Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings to advocate for the ban seven years ago, they first united over their frustrations about the sounds from the gas-powered machines.

But concerns quickly grew to include negative impacts on the environment, like the air pollution, and on the operator's health, like hearing loss and exhaust inhalation. (The exhaust is comprised in part of carbon dioxide and high levels of cancer-causing compounds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.)

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The ban ultimately passed unanimously at the D.C. Council in 2018, giving businesses and individuals three years to transition to a different power source.

In the intervening years, more jurisdictions have adopted similar bans, including the state of California in October, which also banned gas-powered lawn mowers and chain saws. When it takes effect in 2024, the Golden State's ban will likely lead to even more consumer options, given California's size.

Nancy Sainburg, owner of D.C. and Maryland landscaping company The Enchanted Garden, is already compliant with the forthcoming ban. She made the switch to battery-powered equipment about five years ago when a local wholesaler began selling them.

After presenting the new equipment to her employees that spring, she says, "they were like, 'Okay, but in the fall, you have to let us still use our big backpack gas blowers.' And I said, 'Okay, let's just keep one or two just in case.' But by the time the fall rolled around, they had forgotten about the gas blowers. They were so happy not to be sucking in all that carbon monoxide."

At first, she says, there weren't too many options for battery-powered lawn equipment, and what existed wasn't as good as the gas-powered alternative. But that is changing as the technology evolves.

"It's improving, and also there's more competition" among manufacturers, says Sainburg. "The batteries themselves are getting better, also." Improvements to batteries include durability and power, and are driven in part by the growing electric and battery-powered car market.

While Sainburg's business won't be impacted by the ban going into effect, many others will.

The D.C. Department of Regulatory and Consumer Affairs sent out notes in August in English and Spanish to inform people in the lawn and building maintenance industries of the forthcoming change, according to a statement from agency director Ernest Chrappah.

"Violations of the law can be reported by any person who observes a gas-powered leaf blower being used in the District, which can then result in an enforcement proceeding against the violator," the notice states. "For your awareness, DCRA will be accepting photographic and recorded (video and audio) evidence in support of these citations."

The law is one of only a handful in D.C. that allows residents to file an affidavit online if they see or hear people using a gas-powered leaf blower, along with the photographic, audio, or video evidence.

Chuck Elkins is a Ward 3 ANC commissioner who worked to ban the gas-powered leaf blowers in the District.

"The best way to get people to switch is simply to get them informed that this is the law in the District," says Elkins. "And you know, here's the deadline, and here's what you need to do. And most people, I think once they find out what the law is, will comply voluntarily."

If businesses don't comply, they could be subject to a $500 fine each time.

D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility just rolled out a rebate program to help businesses and residents make the switch, and advocates are compiling a list of financial institutions offering zero-interest loans for new equipment.

But Ben Jordon, the owner of Treehous LLC, which includes landscaping services, says he learned about the ban from NextDoor, not the D.C. government. (Leaf blowers have long been a popular topic on the neighborhood forum.)

Jordon considered the switch a few years ago, but determined that battery-powered equipment wasn't as powerful as the gas-powered versions. He's concerned about what the switch will mean for the company's workflow.

"We do a lot of residential lawns, probably up to 15 stops in a day," Jordon says. He wonders when he would have time to charge the batteries, and thinks the best solution would be a power source in a vehicle that can charge them, which requires an upfront cost that wouldn't be covered by the rebates. "There's a lot of additional costs," he says.

While businesses don't need to put money towards gas for the battery-powered equipment, Sainburg says that she pays the constant cost of replacing the batteries.

Movement away from gas-powered leaf blowers in the region isn't limited to the District. Fairfax County is phasing out the equipment for county operations, and Montgomery County residents have pressured officials to follow in D.C.'s footsteps. Chevy Chase Village and the Town of Chevy Chase have both already passed bans.

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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