Should Government Mandate the Adoption of Zero-Emission Equipment?

As the saying goes, “As California goes, so goes the nation.” TCIA has found this to be true across the board, from emissions standards to safety regulations; policy that starts in California seems to spread to other states and sometimes even to the federal level. This leads us to a policy that TCIA is closely watching – a potential ban on the sale of gas-powered, small, off-road engine (SORE) equipment by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) starting in 2024. Currently, CARB is contemplating changes to regulations impacting the sale of gas-powered SORE equipment, and there is proposed legislation (AB 1346) that would require CARB to adopt this retail-sale ban by 2024.

So, what exactly does CARB mean by gas-powered SORE equipment? You can find a list accompanying this article, but many gas-powered saws, lawn mowers, leaf blowers and generators would be included in this ban on retail sales. One silver lining is that chain saws with greater than 45cc displacement engines are exempt from CARB jurisdiction due to federal regulations, so many of the chain saws popular in the tree care industry would not be impacted by this ban.

It should be noted that neither the changes to the CARB regulation nor AB 1346 would ban the use of gas-powered SOREs by 2024. Instead, the agency and lawmakers are seeking to ban the sale of this equipment at retail locations throughout California – leaving only zero-emission equipment (ZEE) eligible for purchase at retail locations in the state come 2024.

Potential issues

TCIA has several concerns with the proposed changes. First, although most of the chain saws used in the industry would not be impacted, there would still be many that would be, such as smaller hand-held saws designed for in-tree use. Second, CARB’s contemplated changes would increase operating costs for businesses in the market for new equipment, as ZEE is typically more expensive than its gas-powered counterparts. Third, the batteries on ZEE often do not have the same length of running time as gas-powered equipment, and recharging this equipment during the day also would prove burdensome to many small businesses.

Where does this leave us?

TCIA has aligned with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and other national and California-based stakeholders who have concerns with the proposed CARB regulations. In response to a March 2021 workshop from CARB on the SORE regulations, TCIA and others have submitted comments to CARB outlining such concerns with the proposed rule. TCIA’s comments expressed particular concern with the truncated timeline under which this rule will take effect, noting that
battery-powered equipment is currently in use by the industry, but many in the industry may not have the capacity to rapidly shift much of their equipment to ZEE.

Next steps

TCIA will continue to engage on this issue in California on behalf of our members and to ensure our industry’s concerns are considered by CARB as they proceed with the formal rulemaking process into the fall of 2021. Additionally, we are closely monitoring the status of AB 1346 and have submitted comments to the California legislature in opposition of that bill.

Looking forward, this is not the last time we anticipate hearing about SORE regulation. Several cities have banned certain SOREs, and though this is the first statewide ban proposed, it will likely not be the last. In addition to local and state-level proposals regarding emissions standards, President Biden also has moved America back on track to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by no later than 2050, after re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement on his first day in office. He also has set a new target to reduce net greenhouse-gas pollution by 50-52% of the country’s 2005 levels by 2030, which he states can be achieved by investing in infrastructure and innovation that will produce and deploy clean technologies. Given the current Administration’s renewed focus on cutting carbon emissions, it is possible we could see future federal scrutiny of nonroad mobile sources of pollution and accompanying regulatory proposals to promote ZEE.

Regardless of what the future holds, TCIA will continue to make our members aware of any developments in this area and will advocate for their interests. In the meantime, we encourage our members to follow the ZEE developments in California and around the nation and consider the pros and cons of ZEE for their businesses.

If you have questions about this regulation or would like to be involved in TCIA’s efforts in California, please reach out to Aiden O’Brien, TCIA’s advocacy & standards manager, at aobrien@tcia.org.

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