Florida cities want to ban noisy gas leaf blowers, go electric. Tallahassee may stop that

Across Florida, cities have been making the switch from noisy gas-powered leaf blowers to electric ones, citing benefits like quieter lawn care, less air pollution and fewer atmosphere-warming emissions.

But in a last-minute move on Thursday with no opportunity for public comment, the Florida Senate introduced and passed legislation that would block future and existing bans on gas-powered blowers.

If made into law, the new policy would disrupt fledgling efforts in Miami to pass a similar ban, and potentially upend established bans in multiple South Florida cities, including Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, South Miami and Pinecrest.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, appears to be sparked by a controversy over a potential ban in Winter Park, a city in central Florida. In early February, Brodeur introduced similar legislation in Tallahassee but quickly withdrew it. The Winter Park Voice reported that Brodeur threatened to re-introduce the ban if the city didn’t agree to put the matter up to a city-wide vote, which Winter Park agreed to do.

The day after the city ceded to Brodeur’s request, the Senate passed its pre-emption of the ban.

Less noise, less pollution

Cities across the country, largely in California but also in Florida, have changed laws to trade in gas-powered leaf blowers for electric ones. A decade ago, the bans were largely advertised as quality of life improvement by removing the noisy roar of lawn maintenance.

But in recent years, advocates have pushed the health and climate implications of the switch.

In the latest national emissions inventory, the federal government found that leaf blowers and lawnmowers in Florida emitted as much air pollution as 22 million cars use in a year in 2020 alone.

Because of its year-round culture of green lawns, Florida leads the nation in pollution from gas-powered lawn equipment. That pollution is harmful to human health, and repeated exposure can lead to lung issues.

READ MORE: Florida’s garden equipment helps it lead the nation in this type of pollution

This map shows fine particulate pollution from lawn and garden equipment by county in 2020 by the tons.

This map shows fine particulate pollution from lawn and garden equipment by county in 2020 by the tons.

Gasoline is also a fossil fuel. When burned, it releases emissions into the atmosphere that worsen global warming.

Electric lawn equipment emits none of those pollutants.

Aaron DeMayo, chair of Miami’s Climate Resilience Committee and an urban planner at Miami-based design firm Future Visions Studio, introduced a resolution to convert Miami’s gas leaf blowers to electric earlier this year. The city commission is set to take it up in mid-March, but a state pre-emption would halt the bill before it’s even heard.

“We have so many actions we have to take to get to net zero, we should start with something easy,” DeMayo said. “This seems fairly simple. The technology is already available. If we’re serious about our goals we should be able to do this.”

Opponents of the switch from gas to electric often cite price as a deterrent. While electric lawn equipment is cleaner and quieter than its fossil-fueled counterparts, it is also more expensive.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Seeking Rents reporter Jason Garcia said the state-level pre-emption would apply for at least a year, and the senate measure also includes a request for $100,000 for a study on the lifespan of gas vs electric-powered leaf blowers. The measure, contained din a senate budget bill, would still need to be approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis to become law.

At the commercial level, electric leaf blowers can be four times more expensive as gas, although the costs may even out over the lifetime of the product, and they’re heavier. The LAist reported that some landscape contractors are struggling to adapt financially to the mandates in California cities, although the state has introduced rebates and grants to help the transition.

Using them in cities that ban them can also be pricey. Miami Beach’s legislation imposes a $250 fine on first offense for using a gas-powered blower and up to $1,000 for third and repeated offenses.

However, advocates say that the switch is a necessary step in the transition to a lower-carbon world, which is the only way to slow the damaging effects of climate change.

“There’s a cost associated with that transition, but there’s also a cost borne by not taking action on climate-warming emissions,” DeMayo said.

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