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Dallas Changes Plans to Ban Gas-Powered Lawn Equipment

A new state law that goes into effect in September blocks city, county, school district and other authorities from limiting or banning the use, sale or lease of an engine based on its fuel source.

a person blows leaves off a lawn with a leaf blower
A new state law that goes into effect in September appears to block Dallas' plans to ban gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other landscaping equipment.
Jae S. Lee/TNS
Dallas is changing its plans to ban residents and businesses from using gas-powered lawn mowers and other landscaping equipment because of a new Texas state law that goes into effect in September.

Senate Bill 1017, which was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in May, blocks a city, county, school district and other authorities from limiting or banning the use, sale or lease of an engine based on its fuel source. It was the legislature’s apparent attempt to rein in regulations in Texas’ largest, Democrat-led cities, like Dallas, that set stricter standards than state law.

Carlos Evans, director of Dallas’ environmental quality and sustainability office, said his office is working on a proposal to present to the City Council sometime after July that calls for phasing out all city-owned gasoline-fueled landscaping equipment and an incentive program for residents and businesses who want to voluntarily transition to electric or battery-powered tools. But a citywide ban won’t be part of the recommendations to the council.

“Initially, our plan included a potential ordinance but it doesn’t anymore,” Evans said. He later added that the city believes “the best business decision at this point is just to move forward with the other two components.”

Juan Arroyo, who has been doing lawn care service with his dad and uncle in Dallas since last year, said a ban would significantly impact small businesses like his family’s. He estimated the trio used about $7,000 worth of equipment including two lawn mowers, and said he believed the financial burden along with uncertainty that electric or battery-powered equipment could do comparable work in the same amount of time likely wouldn’t be worth the switch.

“We’d have to get rid of all of it,” said Arroyo, who lives in Dallas. “That would be the case for a lot of people.”

He said his family would prefer the flexibility of being able to decide whether to ditch their gas-fueled equipment, but likely wouldn’t switch.

Council member Paula Blackmon said decreasing the use of gasoline-fueled landscaping equipment is a way for Dallas to address air quality concerns.

She said she would still like the city to figure out ways to push for cutting down on air pollution from gas-powered tools, including a possible ban that would target emission levels rather than the energy source.

“I think the best thing to do is to stick to the overall goal, which is to bring down emissions,” said Blackmon, who led the council’s environment and sustainability committee. “What we’ve been concerned about all along is what comes out of these machines and how they can harm communities. I think it’s still worth looking at what we can do to get there, even if we can’t focus on energy source.”

Though he didn’t mention Dallas by name, Abbott in a Twitter video cited the idea of limiting Texans from using gas-powered mowers and other equipment as why he felt SB 1017 was necessary. He called it a law meant to “protect energy choice in Texas.”

“No city or county in the state can pass an ordinance that would deny your ability to use things like a gasoline lawn mower, to go to a gasoline station, or to access natural gas for your home or appliances,” Abbott said in the May 17 video while holding a signed copy of the bill.

A Plan to Reduce Emissions

Dallas has been exploring restricting the use of at least gas-powered leaf blowers since 2019, citing environmental and noise concerns. Dallas’ environmental commission and the council’s environment and sustainability committee last fall asked city officials to move forward with developing plans to phase out the use of all gas-powered tools for city departments, contractors, businesses and residents by 2027 or 2030. The ban would mandate use of alternative devices, like ones powered by electricity.

Some council members have touted it as a way to help Dallas meet goals set in its comprehensive environmental and climate action plan, a citywide set of strategies approved by the City Council in May 2020 meant to help reduce emissions and address environmental issues. Some of the goals include making the city carbon-neutral by 2050 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030.

Charlie Gagen, American Lung Association advocacy director for Texas and Oklahoma, said air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has improved since the late 1990s, but ozone air pollution levels are still higher than federal standards.

He said the American Lung Association was opposed to SB 1017 because it preempted local authority and likely wouldn’t help cut down on air pollutants. He noted 2021 data from the California Air Resources Board that compared one hour of using a commercial leaf blower equal to producing as much smog as a car driving about 1,100 miles.

“These gas-powered lawn care equipment often have no pollution control devices,” Gagen said. “We’re disappointed because we feel this prohibits Texas cities from taking action to protect public health.”

How a Voucher Could Help

Similar bans or restrictions across the country, like in Washington D.C., have targeted gas-powered leaf blowers because of dust and chemicals they emit that can harm residents and workers. California approved phasing out all gas-powered landscaping equipment in 2021. The California ban on the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers starts in 2024.

Evans told The Dallas Morning News that the city planned to completely transition city equipment from gas-fueled landscaping equipment by 2026. Residents and businesses would have had to transition by 2027. He said the timeline for city equipment might change.

The city last year estimated it would cost $6.5 million to fully convert more than 5,400 pieces of gas-powered, city-owned equipment, and it would cost $23 million for residents and business owners to switch.

A June memo from Assistant City Manager Carl Simpson to the mayor and City Council said an example of a possible incentive program could see the city offering up to $150 vouchers per equipment. He said based on the tally of 222,000 single family homes in Dallas, a program like that could cost up to $3 million a year, if the vouchers only covered leaf blowers, and up to $9 million if all gas-fueled equipment were covered.

At least seven city departments would be transitioning their equipment, including Dallas Fire-Rescue, Parks and Recreation, Aviation, and Code Compliance, according to the memo.

The memo also said the city has been surveying residents to gauge how much interest there is in people wanting to convert from gas equipment to ones powered by another source and have gotten more than 500 responses so far.

“Preliminary review of survey responses indicates a polarized electorate with a good understanding of the ‘why’ for conversion, but concerns about the costs related to transitioning to electric equipment,” the memo said. “There was consistent support for some type of incentive program to support the transition effort.”

Evans said the city could either provide money upfront to people or businesses wanting to switch to electric or battery powered landscaping equipment or offer at least some reimbursements.

Marvin Lofton, a Dallas ISD behavioral intervention specialist who runs Lofton Lawn Care Services part-time, said while he thought a $150 voucher would be helpful, it wouldn’t fully cover larger equipment like a lawn mower.

Lofton said he uses both gas- and battery-powered leaf blowers and lawn edgers. He received the lithium battery equipment as a gift and said he finds it lighter and easier to start up than his gas equipment. But it isn’t as reliable, he said, and while he often will start with his battery equipment, he needs the gas tools as a backup to finish the job. The battery on his edger lasts about 25 minutes.

“I do like using them first because it’s easier to put a battery in and go,” said Lofton, who lives in Lancaster but does work in southern Dallas, DeSoto, Duncanville and other areas. “But it can be a liability depending on the size of the job. I don’t think the technology is there yet for me to give up my gas mower.”

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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