Georgia Senate Republicans are resuming efforts to pass a law that would bar local governments from limiting the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, even as such efforts appear to have fizzled at the local level.
State Sen. Shawn Still, representing Johns Creek, is the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 145, the Landscape Equipment and Agricultural Fairness, or LEAF Act, which would outlaw regulations that treat gas-powered leaf blowers differently than other, similar tools.
In a statement, Still said his proposal would not prohibit or discourage anyone from voluntarily opting for a battery-powered blower, but added that “Property owners can make their own decisions.”
“This bill would prevent government overreach that restricts devices on the property of others and will aid those who work to keep Georgia beautiful,” Still said.
The statement also quoted several professional landscapers who said they need the option of gas-powered equipment for their businesses.
Gas-powered leaf blowers have been targeted by some local officials and residents across the country because of the noise and environmental pollution associated with them. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution could not find any examples of counties or cities in Georgia that have actually introduced new regulations targeting the landscaping equipment.
Sen. Still did not respond to a request for an interview or a question about which, if any, local jurisdictions have restricted gas leaf blowers. A similar bill introduced in the last session failed to become law.
Gas lawn and garden equipment are a source of high levels of hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Some states have conducted their own analyses. In 2021, California regulators voted to phase out new gas-powered lawn equipment, citing a report that concluded small, off-road engines create more smog in the state than passenger vehicles.
Atlanta resident Peter Bahouth, the former executive director of Greenpeace USA and the U.S. Climate Action Network, is an outspoken critic of gas-powered leaf blowers. He cited concerns over pollution and noise, but pointed out that he was not aware of anywhere in Georgia that restricted gas-powered leaf blowers.
“That’s the ridiculous thing about this legislation,” Bahouth said. “I mean, [leaf blowers] already have free rein in every neighborhood that I know of where people are upset about them.”
In 2021, Atlanta City Council approved a resolution “encouraging” the city to work with the state Environmental Protection Division and the Georgia General Assembly “to determine whether there is a manner to address the environmental nuisance of gas-powered leaf blowers.” Currently, leaf blowers are restricted to certain hours of the day under the city’s noise ordinance.
Sara Lips, a spokesperson for the EPD, said the agency does not have any records of any collaboration on the issue.
Spokespeople for Atlanta City Council and the mayor’s office were not able to provide details of any concrete action since the resolution.
Jeff Montgomery, a spokesperson for Athens-Clarke County — where officials started looking into additional restrictions — said the effort more or less died when the commissioner spearheading it left office this year.
“[I]t’s not something currently in the hopper for any changes or discussion at this time,” he wrote in an email.
Renae Jackson of the city of Decatur said that no changes have been made to its ordinances regarding leaf blowers since the issue was raised several years ago.
“The staff person who was managing the project no longer works for the City,” she wrote in an email. “However, the City continues to review public feedback and work on the noise ordinance.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com