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Atlanta seeking to curb use of gas-powered leaf blowers

By David Pendered

Leaf blowers as both a polluter and an irritant of urban life are coming under scrutiny in Atlanta and possibly, at Atlanta’s behest, by state environmental officials. Recommendations to manage their use are due in Atlanta by May 31.

blower

The relentless use of leaf blowers spreads air and noise pollution throughout neighborhoods. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

Meanwhile, Atlanta resident Peter Bahouth’s guest column in SaportaReport seems to have reached at least one reader who was moved to action. A rake manufacturer sent him an unsolicited box of a dozen rakes after his piece criticized leaf blowers as noisy, noxious tools that deprive nature of a habitat “for everything from fireflies to Luna moths,” as Bahouth wrote Wednesday.

In addition, as of Jan. 1 one city in California has banned the use of gas-powered leaf blowers on residential lots. Battery-powered blowers remain legal at limited hours. A Monterey city official said in a statement the new code “satisfies both sides of the leaf-blower nuisance discussion.”

In Athens, the consolidated city/county government is reviewing leaf blowers in light of potential conflicts with the noise ordinance. The government’s Legislative Review Committee was slated to discuss the matter Feb. 4. Minutes of the meeting do not seem to be available on the government’s website.

Even before the pandemic, the noise and pollution created by gas-powered leaf blowers began emerging as an irritant in residential communities. Back in 2008 and later, the critics were folks dislocated from corporate jobs trying to recover in home offices. Since the pandemic of 2020, complaints have risen as more folks work from home and smell the emissions and listen to a seemingly endless symphony of their neighbor’s gas-powered tools.

Jennifer Ide

Some of these folks got the attention of Atlanta City Councilmember Jennifer Ide, whose district includes Midtown.

Ide sponsored legislation that begins an attempt to regulate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in the city. As a municipal government, there’s not much Atlanta can do to reduce the machine’s use – the city doesn’t control air quality issues and noise legislation is extremely difficult to enforce.

Ide decided to see if the state Environmental Protection Division could help. EPD is part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resource, which does have purview over air quality issues.

“This is an issue I hear from constituents,” Ide said at the council’s Feb. 10 Finance Committee, which she chairs and which approved her personal paper.

“In initial discussions with the Law Department, this is an area where we are preempted,” Ide said. “But I wanted to have a discussion with our friends across the street [at the Legislature] and at EPD to see if there’s a possibility of addressing this some other way.”

The Atlanta City Council approved Ide’s resolution on Monday. The measure provides:

  • “[T]hat the City of Atlanta shall be encouraged to work with the Environmental Protection Division of the State of Georgia and/or the Georgia General Assembly to determine whether there is a manner to address the environmental nuisance of gas-powered leaf blowers; and
  • “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City of Atlanta will research the solutions that have been established in other cities across the nation; and
  • “BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that this investigation and discussion shall commence immediately upon approval of this Resolution and shall be completed by May 31 2021.”

Bahouth has studied the pollution from leaf blowers and maintains the two-stroke motor that runs them emits so many emissions that the motor should be banned. Bahouth has spent a lifetime around environmental issues. He describes himself today as a climate activist and visual artist. Before that, he served as the executive director of Greenpeace USA, The Turner Family Foundation, and the U.S. Climate Action Network.

“Two-stoke motors burn 60% to 70% of the fuel, and the rest is blown into the air as particulate matter, which is too small to filter before your breathe it into your lungs,” he said. “You’re breathing toxic fumes.”

Bahouth sent a follow-up message by text:

  • “We live in the most forested city in the U.S. – we literally live in nature. Leaves are not litter. They provide habitat for everything from fireflies to Luna moths. A leafless lawn is unnatural.”

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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4 Comments

  1. Dana Blankenhorn February 19, 2021 10:00 am

    Many city of Atlanta homeowners think they’re on a golf course. We’re not. This is a forest. We should act like it. That means less grass monoculture, more gardening.Report

    Reply
  2. urban gardener February 19, 2021 10:15 am

    Given the staggering volume of leaves blown into streets and then into the storm drain system ( because lawn crews will not bag them), i would think Public Works would have been involved due the amount of time and money they spend cleaning clogged drains and dealing with resulting flooding problems in low lying areas. I realize Public Works lack of staffing to run street cleaning equipment is part of the problem, but grounds crews blow huge volumes into gutters and small public parks and rights of way divided median . It is frustrating to spend cumulative days bagging leaves (and pay for the bags) along pocket parks from weeks’ worth of residential lawn crew laziness.Report

    Reply
  3. Mike Vinciquerra February 19, 2021 11:15 am

    There is a purpose and use for leaf blowers in certain instances, but the typical landscape company never pulls out a rake even when it would be much more efficient for moving wet leaves, large piles of leaves or other debris like twigs, etc. Additionally, leaves are critical to feeding nutrients back into the soil to help keep our tree canopy healthy and able to withstand our more frequent and severe storms. They also support myriad wildlife up and down the food chain. There seems to be an educational component of this process needed for property owners (including homeowners) that hire these companies year after year. 2-stroke leaf blowers are highly pollutive, incredibly noisy and mostly unnecessary. The landscape staff using these devices are constantly exposed to the noise and noxious fumes they produce – do the company’s take this into account when they ask them to strap these machines on their back day after day? Some form of hazard pay seems reasonable if they do. It’s time to put some constraints on these devices and encourage other methods of landscape cleanup, if and when they are actually needed.Report

    Reply
  4. Wormser Hats February 19, 2021 4:22 pm

    Just like rakes, mowers, string trimmers, and pruning shears, gas powered leaf blowers are a tool. How and whether the tool is used, is a matter of choice and wisdom. Sometimes the two don’t meet, and oftentimes in well-meaning regulation that ultimately infringes upon liberty in the name of merely keeping the peace, veiled with arguments about the fundamental evils of the tool in the great grand scheme of things.

    To be fully nature-friendly, we should silence the leafblower, put down the rake, and enable nature’s original land management tool with progressive regulation to bring-back the use of prescribed fire.

    It would reduce carbon-rich waste and recycle nutrients produced by the urban canopy allowed to remain by the city Planning Department’s slipshod execution and enforcement of the current tree ordinance.Report

    Reply

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