Lawn Mower Rebate Bill Helps the Climate, Reduces Noise

By Richard Schrader | June 3, 2023

It’s that time of year again when you open a window to enjoy the nice weather, just to hear the loud buzzing of gas-powered lawn equipment coming from a neighbor’s yard. Each weekend, about 54 million Americans mow their lawns, which totals to about 800 million gallons of gas used per year. The U.S. EPA found that over 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment. Yes, these gas-powered machines can be loud and annoying, but they also have a massive environmental footprint. Thankfully, a bill (S5853/A5681) to create an electric landscaping equipment rebate program is making its way through the state legislature and, if passed, would provide some relief for the climate and for our ears.

The aim of bill S5853/A5681 is to help reduce the amount of gas-powered equipment out there by creating a rebate program for commercial and individual landscapers to exchange their gas-powered mowers for climate-friendly battery-operated equipment. The bill, introduced by Sen. Krueger and Assemblyman Otis, will create a rebate program administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Both homeowners and landscapers will be able to retire their gas-powered outdoor equipment by receiving funds to replace it with new electric equipment. Ultimately, the rebate program will benefit all New Yorkers by creating cleaner, quieter communities.

Gas-powered landscaping equipment emits large amounts of greenhouse gases and harmful, smog-forming pollution, including hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter. U.S. EPA data has found that gas-powered lawn mowers make up 5% of total air pollution in the U.S., and it’s even higher in urban areas. The California Air Resources Board has reported that operating a gas-powered lawn mower for one hour creates as much smog-forming pollution as driving an average car 300 miles, the distance from New York City to Portland, Maine. The Board also found that operating a gas-powered leaf blower for one hour creates the same amount of smog-forming pollution as driving a car 1,100 miles, or from New York City to Tampa, Florida.

Not only is gas-powered lawn equipment environmentally polluting, but it creates intense noise pollution that is much louder than noise emitted from battery-operated equipment. According to a 2018 report in the Journal of Environmental and Toxological Studies, sound levels at distances of 400 feet were up to 22 decibels louder from a gas driven leaf blower compared to one driven by an electric battery. Given that decibels are measured logarithmically, that means that the gas-powered leaf blower was twenty-two times as loud as an electric one.

For gas lawn mowers, part of the noise comes from motors with pistons that move up and down and valves that open and close. Plus, the mixture of gas and air, essential to powering the engine, causes a noisy explosion in the gas-powered equipment. On the other hand, electric mowers operate on motors that spin, which is a far less noisy process with much less vibration than a gas engine. Hearing this loud equipment for hours a day exposes workers and community residents to harmful levels of noise and threatens public health, particularly for children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations. It also stops us from enjoying an open window on a nice day.

Last month, Consumer Reports measured mower noise comparisons between electric and gas lawn mowers. The lower the number of decibels, the louder the sound of the mower. At the ear, Consumer Reports found the average score for electric mowers was 5.1 decibels while gas mowers measured at a much louder at 2.4 decibels. At 25 feet, electric mowers were at 5.4 decibels and gas equipment was at 3 decibels; the noisiest gas mower was 1.6 decibels, while the noisiest electric at 4.9 decibels. Consumer Reports found that the noisiest electric mower was quieter than the quietest gas model.

About 170 communities in the U.S. have already enacted restrictions on gas-powered leaf blowers, including several dozen cities and villages in New York State that have enforced bans on this equipment during certain times of the year. Through the creation of a rebate program, New York State will incentivize landscapers and homeowners to transition away from gas-powered lawn care equipment to less polluting, less noisy electrical products.

Numerous communities in California already operate an electric landscaping equipment rebate program and New York should join ranks to add to its growing list of climate and environmental protection policies. The electric landscaping equipment rebate bill has already passed the Senate, and now it’s up to the New York State Assembly to pass A5681 before the legislative session ends on June 8th. Let’s hope that they do, if not for our climate, then for our eardrums.

Richard Schrader is the New York Legislative and Policy Director for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council).