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Carman: Prying the leaf blowers from Coloradans’ cold, dead hands

Senate Bill 138 would make selling gas-power lawn mowers and leaf blowers illegal in some parts of Colorado. They are a plague to our health and our hearing.

I usually don’t pay much attention to the state legislature until the final week of the session. It’s like my dad used to say about basketball games, it’s just a lot of back and forth until the final two minutes. Why get your hopes up?

This year I’m making an exception, though, for a bill that’s close to my heart — and my ears.

Senate Bill 138, sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen and Rep. Alex Valdez, proposes a series of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state and encourage carbon capture and sequestration, which I’m all for. 

Diane Carman

It’s simple. I have three grandchildren, so I care about the future.  And just last week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report saying we’re perilously close to the point of no return when it comes to addressing that catastrophe. 

As the UN secretary general said, we’re already “getting clobbered by climate change.”

And it’s entirely unnecessary because we know exactly what we need to do to stop it. 

But while I wholeheartedly endorse the bill’s requirements for climate assessments and support for agrivoltaics (solar panels in farmer’s fields), by far my favorite part about this modest bill is Section 4, which addresses those infernal gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

It doesn’t go far enough, of course. It doesn’t legalize shooting them, which would be the only reason I might seek access to a firearm in my lifetime.

SB 138 would make selling them illegal in some parts of the state, however, which would be real progress in improving our quality of life.

I know what you’re thinking. They’re ubiquitous. Everybody has one or two. What’s the big deal?

Clearly, we haven’t been paying attention. They’re a surprisingly big deal. 

These primitive and poorly designed power tools are a plague in more ways than even I imagined before I quit just griping about them incessantly and did some research.

It’s ridiculous that for decades we’ve been obediently driving our cars through emissions testing stations trying to reduce our extreme ozone pollution problems in Colorado and we’re still blithely firing up these noxious machines that are at least as much of the problem.

Maybe more.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The California Air Resources Board estimates that the two-stroke engines in ordinary gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other small power tools produce more ozone pollution than all the cars in that car-obsessed state combined. In terms of carbon emissions, one hour of leaf-blowing or lawn-mowing is the equivalent of driving a gas-powered car 350 miles.

The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has found that operating these tools  exposes users to high levels of carcinogens, including benzene, and the whole toxic brew of nitrous oxide, formaldehyde and other headache-, asthma- and cancer-causing pollutants emitted from gas-powered engines.

Using them is like breathing from the tailpipe of an SUV all day. 

It’s why California last year became the first state to begin phasing out the sale of gas-powered lawn equipment and why about 100 cities across the country have passed measures to ban them.

Then there is the racket. Oh, how I hate it.

For eight months of the year in Colorado, gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers test our sanity. They have made living in verdant neighborhoods about as pleasant as camping in an industrial park. 

The decibel levels that begin with the lawn-mowing crews that start revving their engines at 8 a.m. and continue until the post-work crowd finishes blowing leaves sometime around nightfall frequently come close to those produced by chainsaws and jet engines.

For those who have been trying to work from home for the past two years, for people who enjoy a peaceful walk in their neighborhoods, for anyone who has tried to relax in the back yard with a cup of coffee on a sunny morning, the roar of the two-strokes is infuriating.

It’s also entirely unnecessary.

Think about it. If you can drive a luxury car 300 miles on clean, quiet battery power, surely you can cut the grass without yanking a cord on a filthy gas-powered lawn mower that forces your neighbors to abandon their patios and retreat behind closed windows and doors.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Cordless electric lawn mowers are so quiet you might not even notice when your neighbor is using his. They even come equipped with headlights so you can mow after dark without worrying about waking the kids.

Electric leaf blowers, though much cleaner and not nearly as loud as gas-powered models, are still too noisy for me. Through extreme overexposure, I’ve become hypersensitive to the whine and the roar even of the 50-decibel electric blowers instead of the 85 to 100-decibel gas-powered models.

The industry needs to work on that, for sure, and maybe legislation like SB 138 will spark a movement in that direction.

In the meantime, I’m joining a quiet campaign to Make America Rake Again.

Caps, T-shirts and bumper stickers coming soon.


Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.


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