Groundbreaking rules to reduce smog produced by heavy-duty trucks and to phase out gas-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers and portable generators were approved by the California Air Resources Control Board on Thursday, Dec. 9.

While the state already has some of the strictest emissions regulations in the country, Southern California continues to have the nation’s worst air quality and the state hosts seven of the 10 U.S. cities with the worst air pollution.

Transitioning to zero-emission cars and heavy duty trucks is a state priority, but clean-air advocates have pushed for more immediate changes to rules for big rigs. Unlike passenger cars, diesel trucks have not been required to have annual smog checks. That will change under the new rules. While those trucks comprise just 3% of all vehicle traffic, they produce more than half the smog-causing emissions produced on the roads, according to the Air Resources Board.

The move to electric lawn devices and portable power generators also is expected to have a significant impact. This year, such equipment surpassed passengers cars as a source of smog-forming emissions.

“Californians can breathe easier today after the state took its biggest clean-air action since 2008, adopting a long-needed smog check for heavy-duty trucks and beginning the transition to non-polluting lawn and garden equipment,” said Bill Magavern of the Coalition for Clean Air. His group, along with the American Lung Association, sponsored the state legislation calling for the truck smog checks.

Of the million trucks on the road in California, it was estimated that 145,000 would fail the smog check, according to the board.

The new truck regulation will be phased over the next three years, culminating in a requirement of quarterly smog checks in 2025. Additionally, the Air Resources Board will oversee a roadside monitoring system that can identify trucks that are not in compliance with emissions standards. Trucks from out of state also must comply with the rule.

Through 2050, the new regulation will prevent 7,500 cardiopulmonary-related deaths, with health benefits estimated to be $76 billion over that time, according to board staff.

Representatives of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach expressed concern that they would be required to manually check roughly 36,000 trucks leaving the port daily to make sure they are properly certified with the state. Additionally, trucking industry representatives asked the board to reduce the proposed requirement of two smog checks annually to a single check.

Instead, the board sided with sponsors of the legislation calling for the new rules, and voted to phase in a requirement for quarterly smog checks once the program was up and running.

Lawnmower battle

There was a broader range of objections to regulations for gas-powered lawn equipment, chain saws, power washers and portable generators. Opponents included equipment and RV manufacturers and dealers, volunteer groups that maintain wilderness trails, and landscapers.

“The cost of transitioning is expensive and would probably kill my business,” said Elizbeth Burns of Torrance-based Zone 24 Landscaping. Burns wanted more time to phase in electric equipment, and more time for the evolving technology to improve.

The new rule will require non-gasoline power for all new mowers, edgers, leaf blowers and chain saws beginning in 2024. New power washers and portable gasoline generators would have to be gasoline free beginning in 2028, with more time given for those items because their green-energy technology is farther behind.

However, gasoline-powered equipment bought before those deadlines can continue to be used indefinitely.

“Nobody will have to give up equipment they already own,” said Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, co-sponsor of the legislation calling for the new rule. “It will allow businesses to slowly transition.”

Board staff touted a demonstration project in which 25 groups — including school districts, cities and theme parks — were generally satisfied with available electric equipment. But manufacturers, dealers and landscapers countered that such equipment was too expensive and didn’t perform well, and that recharging batteries was an issue.

Additionally, RV makers and dealers said solar power was impractical for people living in their recreational vehicles or those going off the grid. Landscaping equipment dealers and RV dealers said consumers and landscapers who wanted gas-powered equipment and generators after the deadlines would simply go to neighboring states to buy them.

Board members expressed little concern over that prospect. But they did appear sensitive to questions about the technology keeping pace with the new regulation, calling on staff for annual reports to ensure the transition was working.

“We have seen repeatedly here in my 10 years on the board that if we set up an ambitious goal, 99% of the time we reach it,” said board member Hector de la Torre. “And if things don’t go the way we thought, we make adjustments.”


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