Montgomery County Councilmembers amended legislation that would ban the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers Tuesday, exempting agricultural producers from the proposal.
In a lengthy worksession that lasted more than an hour, the County Council considered amendments to the original bill, which had a public hearing last fall. The legislation would also direct the head of the Department of Environmental Protection to create a program that would partially reimburse owners of gas-powered equipment who turn in their tools to the county and switch to electric leaf blowers and vacuums.
In order to pass the ban of sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers, the council would also need to pass regulations that the county’s Department of Environmental Protection would draft, after the legislation passes. Those regulations would set more specific language on the ban, the exemptions, and other information. They wouldn’t be finalized until next year.
Fines would be $500 for a first offense, and $750 for repeat offenses, but county officials emphasized Tuesday that they would be focused on education of the new law in its beginning months, rather than issuing fines right away.
Much of the discussion Tuesday revolved around reimbursement for the owners of gas-powered tools.
County Councilmember Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6) was critical of a proposal that the county’s Department of Environmental Protection had put forth, providing a $100 rebate for the owners.
Fani-González said that $100 would not help a lot of landscapers throughout the county, who have few employees and “tiny, tiny” profit margins. County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large), who introduced the legislation last year on behalf of County Executive Marc Elrich, said that his staff had done research and found that gas-powered commercial leaf blowers cost about $650.
Albornoz added that electric-powered commercial leaf blowers cost about $600 to $1,000, and the battery pack that powers it is about $800 to $1,000.
County officials, including Adriana Hochberg, acting director of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the rebate amount has not been set yet. They fully acknowledged that the $100 rebate would not be enough for many small landscapers in the county, but urged the council not to set a specific amount on the rebate until more research could be completed.
Councilmembers also considered amendments to delay the implementation of the timeline of when gas-powered leaf blowers would be banned for sale and use, in order to provide more time for homeowners and contractors to adjust. But those amendments failed in 6-5 votes.
Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At-large) attempted to introduce a timeline amendment, but agreed to delay that action at the request of County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large), so more clear language could be drafted. His amendment would have tied the ban of sale of gas-powered leaf blowers to the passage of the aforementioned executive regulations by Councilmembers, which would be by Sept. 1, 2024. The ban of their use would happen six months after that, Jawando said.
Enforcement of the potential law
According to the bill, county officials would enforce the law, and would receive complaints by residents via photographic evidence or hear from at least two witnesses who see the violation, and report via an online form.
Steve Martin, environmental compliance supervisor with the county’s Department of Environmental Protection, said in an interview Tuesday an outright ban on gas-powered leaf blowers would be easiest to enforce. Currently, there are bans, based on the size of the blower and those with a louder noise output, Martin added.
Chevy Chase Village and Somerset have banned the use of the gas-powered leaf blowers in recent years, as has Washington, D.C. County officials said in the first year of D.C’s ban, there were roughly 2,500 complaints about violations of the ban.
Martin added that including himself, there are seven people in his part of the department and that if Montgomery County’s urban areas report that many issues, he’s likely going to need a larger staff to enforce the new law.
Landscapers and landowners can always contest any potential fines in court, but court cases are backed up so much that if a citation is issued, the case won’t be heard for about six months, Martin said.
When asked whether that and other logistical hurdles makes the legislation worth it, Martin declined to comment.
“If I could answer that, I’d go pick the winning lottery numbers,” Martin said.