UPDATED: March 13, 3 pm—

City Council voted unanimously to phase out gas-powered leaf blowers at this morning's meeting. The city will create incentives for small landscaping businesses to purchase electric leaf blowers so they can more easily comply with the ban, which will begin on a partial basis in 2026. By 2028, gas-powered leaf blowers will be banned entirely. Enforcement will be managed through a complaint-based system, with emphasis on property owners who use leaf blowers or hire workers to use them, not on the landscape companies themselves. 

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Though leaf blowers may be handy for quickly moving fallen foliage and other debris, the gas-powered variety have some major downsides. In addition to being grating on the ears, these devices puff out surprisingly large amounts of exhaust emissions, bad for both public health and the environment. 

Today, Portland City Council will consider an ordinance to phase out the tools. If approved, the ordinance would prohibit use of gasoline leaf blowers for most of the year— from January 1 to September 30— starting in 2026. Starting in 2028, gasoline leaf blowers would be banned all year. 

The initiative to phase out the use of gasoline leaf blowers, headed by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), has been in the works for some time. BPS Commissioner Carmen Rubio and Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson convened a Leaf Blower Policy Work Group in 2022, which included representatives from organizations like Quiet Clean PDX, the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association, and the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, as well as city staff. 

The work group’s recommendation was clear: Gasoline leaf blowers should be banned due to their negative health impacts, which disproportionately impact hired landscape workers from historically marginalized communities. 

The problem with gasoline leaf blowers

According to the ordinance documents, Environmental Protection Agency studies have shown gas-powered leaf blowers emit “toxic and carcinogenic exhaust,” including “volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter.” Breathing this exhaust can pose health risks including cardiovascular disease, stroke, respiratory disease, and cancer, and it can also affect prenatal development.

Environment America studies show that people using fossil fuel-powered lawn equipment produced 30 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020— the equivalent of the emissions from 6.6 million cars. Phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers would make a sizable dent in that number. 

These concerns are reflected in the wave of public testimony that rolled in for the proposal. More than 800 people— a very high number by typical standards— have weighed in on the ordinance so far, with the vast majority of them calling on City Council to implement the policy as soon as possible. 

“From a second-floor window I have watched some of the folks operating these machines… wielding their blowers like machine guns targeting clean sidewalks, literally spending minutes chasing a single leaf or two, all while terrorizing the neighborhood with noise and dirty air that children and all of us must breathe,” wrote Portland resident Jim Vogele in a particularly impassioned response. “Gas-powered leaf blowers accomplish nothing of meaningful utility to their employers or to the public that could not be accomplished by less harmful means.” 

The city ordinance rationalizes the decision to delay the implementation of the full ban, stating “although electric lawn equipment technology is rapidly advancing…electric leaf blowers are not yet powerful enough to practically move wet leaves during the winter season.” But many commenters said they wanted the city to act more urgently on the issue. 

“I support this ordinance but want to see it stronger; please start implementation this year,” Lam Westly wrote. “Gas leaf blowers are dangerous to operators and the public. They are incompatible with life in a residential area. It is difficult to enjoy a neighborhood walk with the dust, fumes, and gas-smelling exhaust from them…[and] the disturbing loud sound they make which can be heard from distances far greater than other types of equipment.” 

Not everyone is in favor of the proposal, however. People within Portland’s golfing community were particularly concerned about the impact the ban would have on the city’s golf courses. 

“Leaf blowing makes up a significant portion of the golf program's maintenance efforts,” wrote Tom Williams, chairperson of Portland’s Golf Advisory Committee. “I, along with the rest of the committee, support the goals of the gas leaf blower ban. But I request that the needs of the golf program are considered when drafting and implementing any such ban and phase out.”

One testifier, Mark Booth, wrote to “express [his] deepest chagrin” at the proposed ban, calling it “classic Portland City Council overreach.” 

“This city loves the trees in it and creates onerous requirements around their maintenance and removal…Promote and in some cases require trees, then take away the tools the people need to manage them,” Booth wrote. “Honestly, this ban is the type of thing that is propelling the exodus of residents from the city. Do not put it in place.” 

More than 100 local and state governments, including the entire state of California, have already banned gas-powered leaf blowers. Even closer to home, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners voted in 2021 to phase out gasoline leaf blowers by 2025, setting the stage for a ban in the city of Portland. Despite some concerns about cost and quality of the alternative electric option, it appears likely City Council will support the ordinance. 

The Mercury will update this story.