As early as 1990, California opened a new front in the battle against air pollution, California made moves to control many everyday tools of modern American household to include gasoline-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers, hedge trimmers and snow blowers.
These actions were believed to be the first efforts then to regulate exhaust from these and other "utility" machines, the state's powerful Air Resources Board issued orders to manufacturers to reduce pollutant emissions by 55 percent in two steps starting as early at 1994. These machines produce up to 50 times more pollution per horsepower than trucks produce.
Consumers nationwide ultimately paid for the new technology. Industry leaders raise the concern that the rules were more likely to double the retail prices of such products that could shut them out of the California market altogether, when the second tier of rules take effect. They argued that the cost of developing the catalytic converter technology needed to comply with the second tier of rules would make the machines prohibitively costly.
Overall, it is estimated that utility machines contribute 5 percent of the hydrocarbon and 4 percent of carbon monoxide emissions in California. The total emissions from such machines are the equivalent of 3.5 million new 1991 model automobiles driven 16,000 miles. In 1989, Americans bought 13.2 million utility machines, including lawn mowers, garden tractors, tillers, shredders, grinders and outdoor vacuums.
These actions illustrated the lengths to which California has been forced to go to clean up its air, which in some sections is the worst in the nation. As cleaner and cleaner cars and industry, other smaller sources became more important.
Given the importance of the huge California market for the lawn-and-garden industry, the rules were likely what had the impact as manufacturers modified their products so they could be sold there. More manufacturers decided to make separate product lines for California and for the rest of the country, and many elected to make only the one, more expensive product.
Enhancements to battery technology have made possible the conversion from two stroke gasoline powered lawn and garden tools to 24 volt to 36 volt battery mowers, hedge trimmer, tree pruners, grass trimmer, chain saw with virtually no harmful emissions. Lithium battery technology is quickly replacing lead acid technology to delivery power equivalent to two stroke engine without the harmful affects of noise air pollution.
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