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Jordan Champalou demonstrates a Stihl electric chainsaw Dec. 1, 2022, near Sloans Lake. Champalou has been mowing lawns since age 10 and now maintains 4-5 residential properties per week using all electric lawn tools. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

A proposed ban on the sale of new gas-powered lawn equipment in the Denver metro area may be off the table after state health department staff recommended an alternate proposal that merely bars state and local government use of gas machines in summer months. 

The Regional Air Quality Council, the government-designated advisory group charged with monitoring and fighting the ozone problem in nine Front Range counties, is asking the state Air Quality Control Commission for both a new sales ban and a block on all government and commercial landscapers using gas-powered machines in the summer.

Air monitoring and environmental experts say lawn and gas equipment contribute a small but measurable and controllable portion of Colorado’s ozone violations. Gas mowers and blowers used by homeowners and small commercial operations can be replaced easily by improved clean electric models, they say, with government rebates. 

The staff of the air quality commission, at the health department’s Air Pollution Control Division, instead put forth a competing proposal for commissioners to consider this week. Staff recommendations are often given preference by the commission. This one deletes any sales ban and applies the summer-use ban only to gas equipment controlled by state or local government agencies. 

Environmental groups are holding out hope they can persuade state commissioners to accept the tougher RAQC proposal. 

“It’s important that all of us — governments, commercial operators and individuals — shift away from dirty, loud gas-powered lawn mowers and leaf blowers as quickly as possible,” said Kirsten Schatz of CoPIRG, a nonprofit that backs the sales ban. “Every bit of pollution we prevent from entering our air makes a difference for our health and quality of life.”

RAQC will be speaking for its original proposal, spokesperson David Sabados said. 

“We spent a lot of time doing stakeholder meetings and getting input from our board, who voted to submit ours as it was,” he said. “I think it’s great that this issue is getting so much attention and we can all present our views and have a robust discussion about the best way forward.”

The RAQC’s recommendation, set for introduction at the AQCC’s September meeting this week and a possible vote in December, would: 

  • Ban the sale of new gas-powered smaller equipment in the nine-county nonattainment area on Jan. 1, 2025.
  • Ban the summertime use of gas-powered smaller equipment by institutions or “public entities,” and the private contractors they employ in the same nonattainment area starting June 1, 2025. 
  • Ban commercial entities from using existing smaller gas-powered equipment during summer months starting June 1, 2026. 

The RAQC’s proposal would not be statewide, but would cover all the counties where the EPA says air pollution exceeds ozone attainment standards, threatening the lung and heart health of millions of residents. The ban would affect sales and use in Denver, Douglas, Arapahoe, Jefferson, Adams, Broomfield, Boulder, Weld and the nonmountainous portions of Larimer County.

The EPA in 2008 set national ozone health limits of 75 parts per billion, then revised it downward in 2015 to 70 ppb. Colorado’s most populous counties have been violating those standards for years, and after some gains have recently moved again in the wrong direction. 

Table showing general contribution to Front Range summertime ozone concentrations
This table shows why it’s been so difficult for the northern Front Range to cut its ozone production back below EPA limits. Our background ozone starts high, and the biggest places to cut elsewhere are partially walled off by special interests and consumer habits. (Regional Air Quality Council)

Colorado air pollution monitoring officials have said gas lawn and garden equipment contributes 2.5 ppb to that total on an average day. (Front Range monitors in recent summers have frequently registered daily highs 80 ppb and above.) Large portions are also blown in from out of state, or created by emissions from oil and gas production — facing multiple rounds of new controls — and vehicles, where rules have been passed to encourage transition to clean electric power. 

The Air Quality Control Commission’s agenda this month also includes discussion of other possible pollution control measures that could be included in EPA-mandated blueprints to attain the ozone standards within the next few years. 

In contrast with the RAQC recommendation, the air pollution division staff counter-proposal on lawn and garden equipment would: 

  • Bar state government agencies’ use of gas-powered push and hand-held lawn equipment smaller than 25 horsepower from June 1 to Aug. 31, beginning in 2025. The usage ban would also apply to contracted entities. 
  • Ban the same summer use by municipal and state governments within the nonattainment area beginning in 2026. That ban also includes any entities they contract with for work during that time.

Michael Booth is The Sun’s environment writer, and co-author of The Sun’s weekly climate and health newsletter The Temperature. He and John Ingold host the weekly Sun-Up podcast on The Temperature topics every Thursday. He is co-author with...