Various state and local legislation coming down the pipeline stand to have large impacts on the Green Industry and the day-to-day operations of lawn and landscape businesses. Certain pesticides and gas-powered equipment are being targeted and debated in meeting halls, government offices, and courtrooms across the nation. Highly controversial, the bills are viewed as overdue eco-saving necessities by some and as non-science based, financially cumbersome, public health-risking, over-regulation by others. Unfortunately, many in the Green Industry find themselves in the unenviable position of appearing “anti-green” if they oppose such regulatory measures—measures that can greatly impact every aspect of their business, even its basic viability, overnight.
Many lawn and landscape professionals, particularly when it comes to adopting battery-power, find themselves not opposed to the transition per se, but find the devil is in the timing, enactment, and details of regulation.
“There are a lot of people trying to tell our story, but nobody tells it better than us,” says Brandon Sheppard, Weed Man Sub-Franchisor team member and operator of Weed Man franchises in Virginia, Maryland, and Alabama. “We want sustainability, too. But we must continue to focus on the science, not the emotions. We are not the bad guys as we are sometimes made out to be. We want cleaner air and safe green spaces for our kids—and for many of us, that’s what this industry is all about.”
No matter where you fall in opinions or location, it’s beneficial to stay ahead of what’s happening and how it may come to affect your business today, tomorrow, or down the road.
The first outright ban on neonicotinoid use in the landscape industry was signed into law in New Jersey this past January. This makes it an important one to pay attention to, says Andrew Bray, vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP). The law instructs the state’s Department of Environ-mental Protection (DEP) to deem neonicotinoid-containing insecticides “restricted use pesticides” within 12 months. It effectively prohibits sale or use of most outdoor non-agricultural uses of neonicotinoids starting October 31, 2023. Neonicotinoids, or “neonics,” are an insecticide class including imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam, and clothianidin. Environmental groups assert the chemicals harm at-risk bees and have adverse effects on the environment. Yet those who use neonic products, including many land-scaping associations, point out their role in protecting community health—especially by controlling harmful pest and plant invasives.
“The law bans the use of neonicotinoids on basically only lawns—it can still be used on farms and for interior pests like cock-roaches,” Bray says. “It’s troubling that they really came after the Green Industry with this one and other states will likely follow suit.” It’s already being replicated in New York and Connecticut, he says.
The New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association (NJLCA) “feels that the ban on neonicotinoids should have been focused on consumers who have no training, rather than professionals. We’re sorry to see this effective tool removed from our belt, especially while we are seeing the devastation from the spotted lanternfly in our state. However, we are grateful that the Senator is giving us time to phase out the use of these products and hope that manufacturers have time to deliver a suitable and more afford-able alternative to this class of pesticides. They have been a very cost-effective and valuable tool, that the science has said is safe when used appropriately.”
The law won’t affect NJ-based McCoy Horticultural, since they phased out neonics back in 2005 as part of an overall focus on organic practices. So while owner Richard McCoy doesn’t feel neonics are necessary for landscaping practices, he also sees regulatory bans as problematic. “They are tools and relied on heavily by traditional [landscape] companies to provide an aesthetic expectation for their client. Abruptly removing a tool without a replacement, then client expectations aren’t met, at that time an equal or worse product subsequently will be used to achieve the desired result,” he comments. “Additionally, if used properly, they are better than some alternatives. I don’t believe that critical tools should have a dead stop ban date. If any tool of our trade is to be removed from the field, it should be an industry decision and not one made by folks that are not familiar with our industry. The best approach would be similar to gas leaf blowers—a prudent drawdown with educational opportunities on the alternatives. Pilot programs would be helpful to gather data and see how these bans affect companies.”
A similar Bill (22-131) to NJ’s had been proposed in Colorado and was defeated by a bipartisan vote of 6-1 after numerous NALP members and other organizations testified against it. Dubbed the “Bee Bill,” it was largely focused on neonics’ impact on pollinators. But Bray says legislation like this doesn’t take into account that trained, certified technicians have processes in place to mitigate risk to bees.
An element of the Colorado legislation also involved eliminating preemption, a doctrine that effectively puts state law above local laws. With preemption, no locality, town, city, or county can regulate pesticides further than what has already been regulated by the state and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Without preemption, they can. “That was a big red line for us because it put a lot of power into the hands of local governments to overlook sound scientifically based decisions that have already been made,” Bray says.
Sheppard says giving localities power to regulate anything health or safety-related is problematic. “We want those issues regulated by people who have the resources to make sound policy based on scientific evidence, not emotion,” he says. “One of the biggest issues with passing local laws from county to county is that there are often problems around enforcement. You end up with a patchwork of rules and regulations that differs from region to region—keeping in mind that lawn care professionals might work in all of these different areas, with different rules.”
Sheppard adds that this type of model puts responsible businesses who have always followed the rules in a tough spot. On the other hand, businesses with unlicensed and untrained people—or even DIY homeowners—end up being the ones applying products.
Another key area to be aware of is legislation centered around gas-powered equipment. There are multiple states looking at this issue. Some efforts target gas powered leaf blowers specifically. For instance, in December, a Bill prohibiting the sale and use of gas-powered leaf blowers in New Jersey was proposed. In Washington, D.C., the Leaf Blower Regulation Amendment Act of 2018, which prohibits the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, went into effect in January.
On the local level, measures to ban this equipment seem to pop up quite frequently. In Brookline, MA, for instance, gas leaf blowers are prohibited seasonally: May 16-Sept. 30 and Jan. 1-March 14. Low noise blowers (less than 67 DBA) are allowed March 15-May 15 and Oct. 1-Dec. 31. Hours of operation are restricted and parcels less than 7,500 square feet can have no more than two leaf blowers used at any one time. Montclair, NJ also has seasonal restrictions which were extended in an ordinance last year, despite a legal challenge from Dente Landscaping, based in Montclair. Burlington, VT also recently passed laws which go into full effect this May. To check your area, HD Supply offers a local leaf blower list which is searchable by state. Of course, laws and locations are always evolving so confirm with the cities you serve.
On the state level, there are also efforts to ban all gas-powered equipment—not just leaf blowers. New York currently has such a bill proposed and California made headlines with its approval of a measure this past December that bans the sale of new gas-powered blowers and lawn mowers starting in 2024. However, according to the California Air Resources Board (CARB), which issued the regulations, “Californians can continue to operate their current CARB-compliant gasoline-powered small off-road engine (SORE) equipment; there will be no ‘ban’ on using older models or used equipment purchased in the future. Older models on store shelves can also be purchased even if they are gasoline-powered.” Though CARB has issued the regulations, the rules can’t take effect until the EPA approves the waiver—a process that can take many months to finalize.
While NALP supports a responsible transition to non-gas emitting equipment, it’s important it’s done in a way that makes sense, says Bray. “We are opposed to a timeline that does not reflect the capabilities of the equipment,” he comments. “Right now, the electric and battery- powered equipment is simply not capable of supporting this transition.”
Bob Grover, owner of Pacific Landscape Management in Portland, OR, feels the same way. At press time, in Multnomah County, OR, a ban on gas-powered leaf blowers was being evaluated (but had not passed yet). Grover says that he doesn’t disagree with the intention, but he says the technology is simply not there yet for companies like his to make a total transition.
“The intent is right, and I would say that we, as humanity, need to be better about being responsible in our business practices and reducing our impact on nature,” comments Grover, who says he has always cared about operating as sustainably as possible. “However, some of the recommended legislation puts our industry in an impossible spot since the alternative technology to gas-power is just not where we need it to be yet.”
Bray says states which are creating incentives or rebate plans for purchasing electric equipment are approaching it in a better way. “Colorado has a proposed Bill for banning gas-powered equipment by 2030, but it also has a really good rebate program that helps to incentivize the alternative,” he comments. “And in Washington, we helped to support legislation that got rid of the sales tax for the purchase of electric equipment, instead of just flat-out banning gas-powered equipment.”
Sheppard of Weed Man adds that there are many logistics, infrastructure, and grid challenges that would need to be considered before it makes sense to push bans. “We’re not against electric equipment—we know the industry is already headed in that direction,” he says. “The problem is making arbitrary decisions when the technology is not ready to support it. We have to ease into these transitions in a way that our industry can support.”
While there is no simple solution, those with their finger on the pulse of upcoming legislation say it’s better to work with lawmakers as opposed to sitting back and doing nothing. “I do think that as an industry, we need to step up as opposed to just saying, ‘Leave us alone,’” expresses Grover. “We need to lead change as opposed to having it placed upon us. In other words, we need to be part of the solution.”
Grover says the Oregon Landscape Contractors Association (OLCA) helped sponsor a bill allowing the Oregon Department of Energy to adopt efficiency standards for sprinkler system devices. “We are very much in sup-port of legislation surrounding smart irrigation technology because the technology is there—and it’s the right thing to do,” Grover says.
And as this Turf issue was nearly going to print, NALP announced a collaboration with the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA)—a long proponent of lower impact operations and sustainable land care—to work together on an approach to the responsible transition from gas to zero-emission equipment. While AGZA is neutral on regulation, bans, and restrictions, the two groups will work together with federal, state, and local policymakers on solutions-based approaches.
Getting involved with NALP advocacy efforts is a great way for more lawn and landscape professionals to have their voices heard and get involved in shaping legislation. “We would love to have more people join our network advocacy team and keep up with what’s going on in their state,” Bray adds.
Bray then stated, “Even more important is to join our new community of advocates through NALP’s Voices for Healthy Green Spaces, which is a digital community of supporters dedicated to highlighting the benefits of managed landscapes. The strength of our industry in advocacy is in our numbers and we need to take this opportunity to better educate, motivate, and then activate those to assist in our advocacy efforts.”
Sheppard also urges that more lawn and landscape pros step up and speak out. “We all need to get involved,” he says, and adds that a quote from famous Greek politician Pericles sums it up best: “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Getz is an award-winning freelance writer based in Royersford, PA. Menapace is editorial director of Turf.
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