California is known for the toughest environmental regulations in the United States. Proponents of these regulations, typically of the urban population, deem them necessary.
Yet, they undoubtfully disproportionately impact the lives of the rural Californians and small business owners whose living standards are at the mercy of the regulatory bodies.
Recently passed Assembly Bill No. 1346 (opens in a new tab) on regulation of the emissions of small off-road engines (SOREs) reignited these concerns. The bill was interpreted by the media as “the lawn mower ban (opens in a new tab)”, “leaf blower ban (opens in a new tab)” or a “small engine ban (opens in a new tab)” altogether.
Naturally, these headlines raise concern and provoke panic, but let’s keep our heads cool, go through contents of the new bill and ask the core questions:
What will actually change? And more importantly: What does this mean for you?
The New Regulations Require All Newly Manufactured SOREs to be “Zero Emission” From 2028 Onwards
In short, the novel regulation is planned to be rolled out in two phases.
- The first phase enacts progressively stringent criteria for newly manufactured SOREs sold in California from 2024 (or later, whenever the state board determines they’re feasible) to 2028. The first phase aims to reduce emissions of newly manufactured SOREs by 40 to 90 percent.
- The second phase applies from 2028 onward, whereby all newly manufactured SOREs will be required to meet California’s “zero emission” standard. Most importantly, these regulations apply only to retail sales in California.
“Zero Emission” Status is Merely a Regulatory Term, But Effectively Excludes Current Gasoline-Powered Engines
“Zero emission” is a rather misleading, yet very well-defined (opens in a new tab) term by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB).
Currently, the “zero emission” label can be acquired by any engine which meets a set of criteria on hydrocarbon (HC), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PMx) emissions (near-zero).
Note that carbon dioxide is not covered under the “zero emission” label. Therefore, if a gasoline-powered engine is sufficiently “clean”, it can still be considered “zero emission”.
However, there are currently no gas-powered SOREs that meet these criteria and thus, the “zero emission” standard is currently only fulfilled by electric devices.
SORE Regulations Impact Most, But Not All Portable Devices
Small off-road engine (SORE) is a similarly misleading, yet also a well-defined term (opens in a new tab) by California’s Air Resources Board. Moreover, California’s air resources board cannot overrule federal regulations, which confusingly limits the scope of the new regulations.
Currently, the new regulations impact equipment with an engine of less than 25 horsepower (19 kW) which is NOT considered farming nor construction equipment.
The list is somewhat odd, as e.g. only sufficiently large chainsaws are considered farming equipment. Similarly, the regulations do apply to portable generators and not standby diesel generators.
Devices Manufactured Before 2024 Will Not be Impacted In Any Way
The most important information for our Californian readers is the following:
You don’t need to worry.
These regulations do not apply to any devices manufactured before 2024, and possibly later, whenever the state board determines their implementation feasible.
Nobody will confiscate your portable generator. Importantly, neither second-hand purchased nor devices bought outside of California are covered under the new regulations.
The New Regulations Are Problematic, But You’ll Be Most Likely OK
In summary, what does this mean for you? At least for now, not much. These regulations only impact retail sales in California. They do not limit use or out-of-state purchases. It is unlikely that they will help save our planet, nor dissolve the San Francisco smog.
The regulations might promote the use of electric lawn equipment, but more likely, they may just support the sale of pre-2024 manufactured products at hiked up prices and shopping trips to neighboring states.
The current legislature could be ineffective in achieving its aims and only complicate the lives of the select few who are not considered the base of California largely urban, pro-democratic electorate. As such, it should be considered a virtue signal at best. Manufacturers are already raising the alarm (opens in a new tab). Given how portable generators are crucial to e.g., construction sites, we can expect that the regulations will be most likely relaxed over time under such pressure.
However, if you are Californian considering buying a portable generator at some point in your life, it is probably the best time to do so now, as they will most likely grow scarcer in the long run.