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Weaning us off of gas-powered lawn equipment is about air quality
Dennis Wyatt RGB
Dennis Wyatt

No, this is not wacky California.

But that is how more than a few who have never stepped into the San Joaquin Valley are framing legislation signed into law Oct. 9 they contend makes Gavin Newsom the most woke governor of all.

The target of their scorn — among other new Golden State laws — is banning the sale of new gas-powered equipment used primarily around homes and gardens such as leaf blowers, lawn mowers, weed whackers, pressure washers, small chain saws, hedgers, generators, and pressure washers among others,

They ridicule Newsom for drinking the climate change Kool-Aid. Some go as far as framing it as Democrat versus Republican issue or liberal versus conservative issues.

Here’s some bad news for zealots on both sides of the political spectrum whether they are party animals or someone disgusted that their chosen purveyors of nirvana don’t go far enough in pursuit of scorched earth tactics to vanquish those whose values aren’t a 100 percent match with theirs.

What is behind the new law is air quality, not climate change.

Banning such small gas-powered engines is the natural and logical progression of a process that started in 1967 under Governor Ronald Reagan. It was years before Greta Thunberg’s parents probably even met. And it was decades before climate change entered the political vernacular.

It was due to bad air quality. Something people of all political persuasions had to breathe and look at.

The worst air basins in the United States have consistently been the Los Angeles Basin and the San Joaquin Valley,

The reasons are simple. Mountains creating a basin, prevailing winds, and the nuances of civilization provide the perfect conditions for bad air quality to develop.

Adding to the Valley’s dilemma are atmospheric conditions created by being in a bowl whose eastern ridge goes up as high as 14,000 plus feet along with marine layers clashing with the edge of the continent. It is exacerbated by the fertile soil of the Valley that is a combination of marine sediment from its days as a massive inland sea and the ever fine grinding of the Sierra so fa by four “small” glacial ages.

It is what gives the Valley its Tule fog that is not created by the ocean or bodies of water but emits from the ground.

That cools the air near the ground in the winter to the point that above 1,000 feet or so it is often 10 degrees or so warmer. It is why Ceres can be dreary and at 45 degrees in mid-January while Sonora is pushing 60 degrees and sunny.

If you go back 30 to 40 years ago, the geology, local climate nuances, and development whether it was of homes, farms, factories, vehicle laden highways or railroads had gotten to the point where Mt. Diablo and the Coastal Range — not to mention the Sierra — were not visible on the majority of days.

And while it didn’t have the soot or the smoke smell that wildfires have been bringing us, the visual effects were the same and the health impacts were more damaging especially as you traveled farther south toward Bakersfield in the bowl that is the Joaquin Valley.

The federal government in the 1970s allowed California to go its own way on air quality issues not because of politics but because the realities are different here.

It is not basically flat where a strong wind clears the air every day or so. Nor is it thinly populated.

And justifications for that carve out were the direct result of bipartisan political work that has an equal share of detractors self-identified as Democrats and Republicans.

It might interest political hacks to know the California Air Resources Board was formed in 1967 when Reagan was governor and with his full blessing. It was also a measure with strong bipartisan support in the California Legislature. At time there were 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the State Senate and 42 Democrats and 38 Republicans in the Assembly.  And those in opposition, believe it or not, were an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

From that unified statewide approach to air quality the decision by the subsequent decision by the federal government to allow California the authority to address its worsening air quality issue, led to things such catalytic converters on cars being standard first in California with the rest of the country following suit.

It also gave us more expensive fuel in the form of reformulated gasoline to further reduce emissions. No refineries outside of California produce the mixture that burns gas cleaner in the summer months as retrofitting to refine it is expensive. And building new refineries to standards that meet California’s requirements to reduce emissions is even more expensive.

So what have we gotten for the high price we have paid?

Since the mid-1990s air quality based on various emissions has been roughly halved in the Valley while the population has grown by more than 45 percent.

While many may have short memories, weren’t living in the San Joaquin Valley or its kissing cousin the Sacramento Valley back in the hazy days of summer or weren’t even born yet what we have bought is healthier air to breath despite increased population.

The progress against automobile emissions was so effective after the California Air Resources Board (CARB) had been up and running after 20 years in the 1990s the Diamond Bar Air Pollution Control District identified two-stroke engines such as lawn mowers being a larger source of annual air pollutants in several categories than the annual combined takeoffs and landings Of all jet traffic at Los Angeles International, Ontario, and John Wayne airports.

Two-stroke engines have been known to be hideously inefficient burners of gas for decades. And because they are inefficient they pollute significantly more. A 2006 study noted fine particles and carbon monoxide were the worst from lawn and garden equipment. A person using any such equipment for an hour under most conditions is exposed to pollution well in excess of national standards for 24 hours of exposure.

The state in 1990 was the first government in the world to impose stricter manufacturing standards for small engines. But in subsequent follow up testing in 2003 the CARB found more than 55 percent of all equipment being sold by manufacturers in California was non-complaint.

Tests conducted more recently show than running a leaf blower that is gas powered for 60 minutes emits the same amount of harmful pollutants that driving from Los Angeles to Denver — a distance of 1,100 miles — while behind the wheel of a 2017 Toyota Camry.

Lithium battery technology has evolved to the point it makes sense now from a users’ perspective to force the switch.

And, just to be clear the law requires the phase-out not tied to an arbitrary drop-dead date but by Jan. 1, 2024 or as soon as feasible, depending upon what does first.

Californians operate almost 35 million cars, trucks, and semis as well as 16.7 million gas-powered lawn equipment and generators. That is a lot of sources for pollution.

Newsom isn’t being woke. He’s adhering to the reality of a proven means that has improved California’s air quality. And unless you live in an alternative universe, what Newsom signed into law doesn’t even come close to falling into the category of debatable actions based on diminishing returns.

The new law will make a difference based on what California has accomplished with reducing air pollution from cars.

It is simply building upon what Ronald Reagan and others got started in 1967.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.