Letter submitted by activist Steve Davies to the Takoma Park city newsletter in response to the September, 2009 article, "City Considers Ban on Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers."


Dear Takoma Newsletter:

A story on the front page of the September News offered a misleading picture of a citizen-sponsored proposal to ban gas-powered leaf blowers.

First, the headline, "City Considers Ban on Gas-Powered Leaf Blowers," is inaccurate. Had the newsletter written about the first work session on this issue, in January 2009, that may well have been true. But the city council has made it quite clear that it is not interested right now in taking the bold and well-justified step of prohibiting gas-powered leaf blowers. Instead, as reported in the article, the council has "punted" the issue -- along with any other environmental issue one can think of -- to the environmental action task force.

I question the premise of the story as expressed in the first paragraph, wherein the writer asserts that leaves "ultimately must be removed" from lawns. Actually, they don't. Instead of using gas-powered machines to blow everything to the curb, homeowners could use mulching mowers or rake their leaves into a mulch pile. Reusing leaves that fall on one's property is an earth-friendly way of addressing the leaf issue. It's also a way of saving precious tax dollars and reducing the hassles of negotiating city streets when the leaf trucks are out.

The assumption that leaf blowers are primarily used in fall, and only to clear leaves, also is incorrect. They are used throughout the warm months, mostly to clear grass clippings but also as high-powered brooms in residential and commercial parking lots.

The article says I am a member of the "self-proclaimed 'Rake Brigade,' which turns out en masse in local parks to rake leaves before the leaf blowers arrive."

I wish, but that's too many leaves even for me. In fact, I formed the Circle Woods Rake Brigade, a group of hardy folk who have raked leaves for the past few years in Spring Park. One fellow Takoma resident (and leaf blower ban supporter), Sat Jiwan Ikle-Khalsa, has done the same in Forest Park. (See circlewoods.blogspot.com for some pics of the brigade marching in the 2008 July 4 parade.)

Council member Donna Victoria continues to assert that future EPA regulations obviate the need for a ban. (She's even done her own cost-benefit analysis!) Unfortunately, she's got her facts wrong. First off, EPA is not going to publish new rules in 2011. It already published new regulations in 2008, which are being phased in over the next couple of years. But those regulations will not change the exhaust emission requirements for backpack and hand-held leaf blowers -- the models commonly used by homeowners and landscape crews.

EPA opted not to impose tighter standards on that class of blowers because it concluded that manufacturers have done as much as they can to reduce their exhaust emissions. EPA did, however, impose tougher "evaporative emission" requirements, which target leaks from the devices. I got my information by reading the 2008 rule and talking with an EPA regulatory official who oversaw development of the rule. I am happy to share all of this information with councilmember Victoria.

I appreciate councilmember Robinson's fact-finding in Piedmont and Palo Alto, but with all due respect, Takoma Park is neither of those cities. I believe we should focus on what can be done here, not what is or is not being done in California. As we so often like to point out, Takoma Park is a unique and special place.

Lastly, I never said "Lawn equipment accounts for a healthy percentage of ozone depletion.I said that gas-powered lawn care equipment contributes significantly to ground-level ozone pollution. Ground-level (or tropospheric) ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides (NOx) and Volatile Organic Compounds react with sunlight. Leaf-blowers, lawn mowers, edgers, trimmers and chain saws all emit NOx and VOCs. Ozone is a proven health threat, a fact that our city lawmakers seem unwilling to acknowledge.

Council member Victoria says she wants a "national approach." That's wishful thinking. EPA will never ban gas-powered leaf blowers. Only local governments can take that step. Given the ozone pollution in our area, doing so is a practical way to begin to address the pollution. Shouldn't we use our local authority instead of relying on a federal agency whose boss can change any time (and sometimes stay for a loooong time -- See Bush, George W.).

Before any kind of intelligent debate can occur, people need to agree on a basic set of facts. Residents who are interested can find a lot of information at http://greenourcity.org.

Sincerely,

Steve Davies
Green Our City
6717 Poplar Ave.
steve@eswr.com