Unplugged? California lawmakers send Newsom bill that could ban gas generators

The legislation that outlaws portable generators comes only a year after California suffered rolling power outages amid deadly heat.
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Gavin Newsom
Gavin Newsom
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Legislation to restrict the use of gas-powered landscaping equipment in California also would outlaw portable generators in a state only a year removed from rolling power outages amid deadly heat.

Lawmakers have sent Gov. Gavin Newsom Assembly Bill 1346. The bill’s sponsor, Assembly Member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park, said the legislation would phase out the sale of new gas-powered small off-road engines (SOREs) in California.

“Leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and other equipment with small gas-powered engines emit staggering levels of air pollution,” Berman said in a statement. “These noisy machines are terribly disruptive to communities across California, and the workers who breathe in exhaust from this equipment day in and day out face disproportionate health risks, including asthma, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.”

Berman said emission from SOREs is double that of passenger cars in California.

Berman said lawmakers earmarked $30 million in the state budget to help small businesses purchase zero-emission replacements. The law would require a state agency to begin the phaseout by July 1, 2022.

Should Newsom sign the bill, which cleared the California State Legislature on Thursday, it could ban another gas-powered necessity: portable generators.

The Portable Generator Manufacturers’ Association warned AB 1346 could lead to a ban on the sale of portable generators in California as soon as 2024.

“No matter how well-intentioned this bill might be, it makes a critical error in equating portable generators with other small off-road engine equipment,” said Joseph Harding, technical director of PGMA.

The final amendment of the legislation asks the California Air Resources Board to consider the feasibility of a generator or emergency response phaseout based on the availability of zero-emission options but puts no restriction on banning the machines. A legislative analysis of the bill said generators were the highest source of pollution from SOREs in California.

Harding’s organization is asking for generators to be exempt from the phaseout.

Gas-powered generators proved crucial in August 2020, when a combination of fires, elevated power usage and supplier interruption led to two days of rolling blackouts across California amid a heatwave. Over two days, more than 3 million homes periodically lost power.