CoPIRG applauds Gov. Polis’s sustainability executive order, commitment to reduce air pollution from lawn equipment

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DENVER – CoPIRG applauds Governor Polis’s new executive order to shift the state government away from using highly-polluting gas-powered lawn and garden equipment, establish a state Office of Sustainability and transition to water-wise landscaping on state property. 

The directive calls for the state government to phase out the use of the dirtiest gas-powered landscaping equipment in less than two years in the part of Colorado that suffers from the worst ozone air pollution. In addition, the order calls for the creation of an Office of Sustainability, which would identify strategies that the state should implement to cut air pollution and eliminate energy waste. For example, a recent CoPIRG Foundation report found that Colorado state and local governments together could save taxpayers up to $152 million in lifetime expenses by purchasing cleaner electric vehicles as opposed to gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles for their light-duty fleets.

CoPIRG Foundation Clean Air Advocate Kirsten Schatz released the following statement:
“With this executive order, Colorado can lead the way in quickly shifting away from highly polluting, excessively loud gas-powered lawn and garden equipment and identifying other sustainability measures that can reduce pollution and waste and save money. This is great news for Coloradans’ health and quality of life. 

With cleaner, quieter electric lawn tools readily available, it’s absurd to continue to allow harmful pollution to spew into our air while cutting grass and maintaining our gardens and landscapes. Governments, commercial operators and individuals all shifting away from dirty, loud gas-powered lawn equipment as quickly as possible will make a big difference for our health and quality of life. This is just one example where the state will be a leader and we’re excited to see other ways a new Office of Sustainability will cut energy waste and pollution and save Coloradans money.”


More background

The portion of the executive order on landscaping equipment applies to push lawn mowers and handheld tools with engines under 25 horsepower used on state property in the Denver Metro/North Front Range ozone nonattainment area – where high levels of ozone violate the Clean Air Act. In addition to applying to state-owned equipment, companies contracting with the state for landscape maintenance in the region will have to shift to electric equipment. The deadline for implementation will be June 1, 2025, to coincide with the start of the region’s ozone season, when concentrations of ozone air pollution regularly spike to unhealthy levels.

The order includes exceptions for emergency response and disaster recovery and also directs the relevant state agencies to explore expanding the policy to operations statewide. It highlights that landscaping companies using electric equipment will be prioritized in the contractor hiring process. In order to implement the initial regional phaseout, it is likely the legislature will need to allocate funding to purchase electric equipment. Long-term, the measure is expected to save the state money since electric lawn equipment tends to be cheaper and easier to maintain than gas equipment.

The state Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) will consider additional policies to cut pollution from gas-powered lawn and garden equipment through its ozone rulemaking process this fall, kicking off this month and culminating in a December vote.

Exposure to ground-level ozone can cause harmful health effects including lung damage, worsening of existing respiratory conditions such as asthma and cardiovascular disease. In recent years, Colorado has suffered from some of the highest ozone pollution in the country. The Denver Metro/North Front Range region from Castle Rock up through Greeley and Fort Collins has been out of compliance with air quality standards for years, and was downgraded in 2022 from “serious” to “severe” violator status.

Gas-powered lawn and garden tools lack basic emissions controls and are extremely polluting. Operating a commercial leaf blower for just one hour can result in as much ozone-forming emissions as driving a car 1,100 miles. A 2022 CoPIRG Foundation report showed that fully shifting the lawn and garden sector in the region away from gas-powered equipment could achieve nearly 20% of the cuts needed to bring ozone concentrations down below federal health-based air quality limits.