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Dallas could ban all gas-powered lawn equipment to address noise, environment concerns

Using gasoline-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other landscaping equipment could soon be illegal in Dallas.

Citing health, noise and environmental concerns, Dallas officials are developing plans to phase out the use of 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.

The city is hiring a consultant group to help flesh out a transition plan and evaluate its impact on the public. Dallas officials, for example, don’t know how feasible it is for the average resident to switch to non-gasoline equipment or how many lawn care and landscaping businesses operate in the city.

Small businesses aren’t tracked by the Texas secretary of state’s office, according to Susan Alvarez, assistant director of Dallas’ environmental quality and sustainability office.

“I think being able to meaningfully implement this in a way where we’re not adversely impacting those businesses is going to be critical,” Alvarez said during a Nov. 7 meeting of the City Council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee.

The city in August estimated it would cost $6.5 million to fully convert more than 5,400 pieces of gas-powered municipal equipment, and the cost for residents and business owners to switch was estimated to be $23 million. The city’s switch was also estimated to reduce emissions by 11,665 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, or comparable to taking more than 2,500 gas-powered cars off the road, according to an Environmental Protection Agency calculator. For residents and business owners, the estimate is 338,666 metric tons, or the equivalent of taking almost 73,000 cars off the road.

But the proposed ban faces opposition from the Texas Nursery and Landscape Association, which represents more than 1,400 industry members, including 60 based in Dallas.

“Our member companies have shared concerns with an abrupt transition forcing the use of inadequate technology and imposing serious costs as well as lost investments in our industry,” Ryan Skrobarczyk, the association’s director of legislative and regulatory affairs, told The Dallas Morning News. “TNLA is interested in preserving the freedom for our members to invest in the proper landscape equipment as they see fit.”

Skrobarczyk acknowledged that using electric equipment reduces emissions, but noted concerns over supply chain issues with battery-powered equipment, properly getting rid of commercial-grade batteries, and a lack of clarity on what happens to the existing gas-powered equipment.

He said association representatives have met with city officials to discuss their apprehension.

“Instead of a ban, the city could limit its proposal to a reasonable rebate fund that would make battery-powered equipment more cost competitive and allow companies to purchase commercial-grade equipment as it became technologically feasible,” Skrobarczyk said.

It could be a tough sell for residents, too.

One resident, Tony Hernandez, owner of West Dallas-based Tony’s Lawn Care, said the proposal raises more questions than solutions.

Could he and his four employees do as much work in a day with non-gasoline equipment? Would it be as powerful or as affordable for use at home or for work? And would he be compensated if the answer to any of those questions is no?

He also wondered how the city would enforce making sure everyone is always using equipment that runs on batteries or electricity.

“It just doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially when you still have things like diesel trucks that pollute way more than leaf blowers,” said Hernandez, 52.

Hernandez, who said he’s owned his business for 23 years, would likely have to keep his gas-powered equipment for work in other area cities.

“If I live to see that day, I’ll deal with it when it comes,” he said. “I guess we all would.”

A proposed ban has been explored since at least 2019 and picked up steam last year, though it has mostly focused on restricting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers. It comes as the city is trying to meet goals set in its comprehensive environmental and climate action plan, a citywide set of strategies approved by the Dallas City Council in May 2020 meant to help reduce emissions and address environmental issues.

It set goals of making the city carbon-neutral by 2050 and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030.

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, workers and others nearby. California approved phasing out all gas-powered landscaping equipment last year. It’s the first state to do so.

Noise is also a concern, as Dallas officials cite research showing leaf blowers have a decibel level ranging from a vacuum cleaner to a car horn.

There is also concern that health and environmental issues from the emissions of the gas-fueled tools disproportionately impact people of color, who largely make up the labor force.

Recommendations for a transition plan have already been proposed by the city’s environmental commission, which in August called for the city government to first start decreasing its use of gas-powered landscaping equipment, then allow large landscaping companies to start transitioning the next year, followed by medium-sized groups the year after that, and residents and small businesses 12 months later.

The commission also recommended offering financial incentives to residents and small businesses, and spending at least 10 weeks of explaining the potential policy change in English and Spanish to the public and allowing feedback from the community ahead of a full council vote on a plan.

Kathryn Bazan, environmental commission chair, said her group recommended a phased-approach to make sure residents receive enough notice in multiple languages if the new regulations are approved and so programs can be established to help with the transition. She said the commission is working with the city to look into an equipment buy-back program and other incentives.

“My biggest concern is the impact to small minority business owners and residents,” Bazan said. “I think the transition by 2027 is feasible, we just have to ensure that the city does the outreach and the engagement and that impacted communities are not left behind on this.”

Environmental quality and sustainability officials propose the City Council vote in December 2023 on whether to adopt a ban and a tiered approach to carrying it out, though some council members are pushing for the vote to happen as soon as June.

One proposed option would have the city fully ban gas-powered landscaping tools by 2030, with the city phasing out the equipment over five years starting in 2023; businesses starting from 2024 to 2026; and residents in 2026.

A second option suggests a full ban by 2027. The city would stop using the equipment over four years starting next year; the largest businesses would transition starting in 2024, and all other businesses and residents would transition over three years beginning in 2025.

Council members Paula Blackmon, who has spearheaded the most recent city policy change effort, and Paul Ridley earlier this month said they supported the plan’s progression and implementation sooner rather than later.

Blackmon, chair of the council’s Environment and Sustainability Committee, suggested more city research and community outreach happen simultaneously rather than consecutively.

“I do want this to keep moving forward, and we’ve had a year of discussion,” she said during the Nov. 7 meeting. “I think it’s now that we start working on how we are going to do this and when.”

Ridley noted that the impact to residents of color was his reason to push for an earlier adoption.

“That’s a significant equity issue,” he said. “That’s a burden that’s imposed on people who work in lawn maintenance and that, I think, argues strongly for adopting the more rapid implementation plan and getting this done as soon as possible.”

A pilot program of city parks workers in May using battery-powered leaf blowers, trimmers and saws saw mixed results.

A crew focused on work downtown reported the equipment was reliable, that the batteries lasted as long as advertised and believed the quality of work was good. But a crew working around White Rock Lake said the equipment wasn’t as powerful as its gas counterparts and slowed down the amount of work they could do.

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