Bill of the Week: Senate Bill 525
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bill that captures Oregon’s urban-rural divide more neatly than Senate Bill 525, which would phase out the use of gasoline and diesel to fuel leaf blowers and other power tools. Groups from the Willamette Valley, including Quiet Clean PDX (which has chapters in Salem and Eugene) and Electrify Now, are facing off against landscapers and loggers in a Patagonia vs. Carhartt civil war.
It’s a big issue nationally: Dozens of cities have restricted or banned gas-powered leaf blowers, according to the Audubon Society. In 2021, California went further, banning new gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers statewide beginning next year. As is often the case in environmental regulation, Oregon is now trying to follow California’s lead.
CHIEF SPONSORS: State Sen. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) and state Rep. Courtney Neron (D-Wilsonville).
WHAT IT WOULD DO: Prohibit new, nonroad engines that produce “emissions or evaporative exhaust” after Jan. 1, 2026. In other words, say goodbye to gas-powered leaf blowers, lawnmowers, chain saws, generators and other devices. The plan: Replace them all with electric-powered engines.
PROBLEM IT SEEKS TO SOLVE: There are two. Environmentalists want to reduce emissions from gas-powered engines broadly, as part of working toward the state’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. More narrowly, many residents of urban areas hate gas-powered leaf blowers with a passion that makes the Timbers Army look like civilians.
WHO SUPPORTS IT: Grassroots environmental groups. “Electrifying outdoor power equipment is a sensible and practical way to reduce air pollution, reduce unnecessary noise pollution, and reduce climate warming carbon pollution,” testified Brian Stewart, co-founder of Electrify Now. That group is pushing for Oregon to pay more than lip service to its ambitious emissions reduction goals.
Many who testified in support cited the health effects on workers around high-decibel machines that kick out sooty exhaust. Other urban residents testified to more personal objections. “Gas-powered leaf blowers have ruined the quality of life in my neighborhood,” testified Jesse Hargus of Southeast Portland. “I don’t think it’s right for citizens of this city to listen to this cacophony all day long three seasons out of the year from inside their houses.”
WHO OPPOSES IT: A broad coalition of industries that depend on small engines, including recreational vehicle dealers, landscapers and loggers. Many RVs carry gas-powered generators for use when the vehicles are at rest; landscapers mow and trim with gas-powered tools; and much of Oregon’s timber harvest depends on gas-powered chain saws, blowers, firefighting water pumps and other devices powered by petroleum products. Like the landscapers, the loggers argue that electric replacements for the tools they currently use either don’t exist or are inferior.
Amanda Astor of Associated Oregon Loggers testified the regulations would hamstring her group’s members: “Small nonroad equipment makes up a negligible quantity of Oregon’s emissions and a regulation like the one laid out in SB 525 would do much more harm to the state than good.”
The Senate Committee on Energy and Environment held a public hearing on the bill March 23, and the measure now awaits further action.