The South Coast Air Basin, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley, is not in compliance with federal smog standards, according to a recent presentation to the Santa Clarita City Council.
But air officials are trying to incentivize residents to get on board with the effort to cut pollution.
A representative of the South Coast Air Quality Management District shared rebate information worth hundreds of dollars last week for those thinking about replacing gas-powered landscaping gear, which included a rare lawn-care equipment demonstration inside Council Chambers.
Southern California’s list of polluters includes the obvious — the state’s freeway-dependent lifestyle is a big culprit, according to Michael Cacciotti, vice president of the South Coast AQMD, a 17-million-person Southern California region that includes the coast and inland non-desert areas of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
And the region’s ports make vessels a significant source, too, in addition to the trucks and freight trains that support the movement of those ocean-faring goods.
And the fact that about 220 commuter trains pass through the basin every day doesn’t help, either, Cacciotti added.
However, there’s a somewhat surprising addition to the list of “mobile sources” of pollution, which, combined, account for about 80% of the region’s particulate matter: landscaping equipment.
“Guess what? For the first time last year, off-road equipment, lawn equipment, leaf blowers, weed whackers, lawn mowers, surpassed cars and light duty trucks as a source of pollution in California,” Cacciotta said during his presentation on rebates, “because there’s no catalytic converter or smog controls on them.”
He added that a combustion-engine leaf blower going for an hour causes a similar amount of pollution to a car being driven from Los Angeles to Denver. To stem the smog, the SCAQMD has an offer that it hopes will be hard for smaller commercial landscapers to refuse.
“We’ll have a program coming out next month for commercial landscapers in your community,” Cacciotti told council members. “You don’t even have to turn in your old one — we’ll give you 70% off any type of equipment for your mom-and-pop gardeners.”
Cacciotti said the program is becoming more popular and gaining attention from local districts, including cities, school districts and colleges, because the electric equipment is now achieving results comparable to, or even as good as, its gas-guzzling counterparts. There’s also the savings on gas, oil and spark plugs, he added.
Cacciotti provided a live demonstration during Tuesday’s council meeting to show the noise and efficacy of the devices, which entailed his colleague Bill Kelly standing about 10 feet away and using an electric blower to buffet Cacciotti’s well-coiffed hairdo around, adding his previous show in Alhambra the night before “blew the coat off … one of the council members.”
Some of the incentive programs, including one starting up in April, require handing in old equipment, he said, adding that there’s also money for vans and heavy-duty trucks.
“I’m glad you brought up the equipment that is so prevalently used, and I don’t think that most of us would realize that causes more pollution than cars,” said Councilwoman Laurene Weste, following Cacciotti’s presentation, calling the rebate program an “amazing step.”
Councilwoman Marsha McLean said the noise from the electric leaf blower Cacciotti demonstrated was the only drawback, referring to it as a “high-pitched whine.”
Cacciotti responded that it was still significantly quieter and less polluting than its gas-powered counterpart.
The two significant areas where the region is out of compliance with are ozone pollution, which is better known in SoCal as smog, and particulate matter 2.5. The first is formed in the atmosphere through a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxide and sunlight. The latter includes fine, inhalable particles that can enter the bloodstream from road dust and combustion engines.
The California Air Resources Board spells out the safety concerns on its website:
“If PM2.5 were reduced to background levels, estimated health impacts avoided per year would be 7,200 premature deaths, 1,900 hospitalizations, 5,200 emergency room visits,” according to CARB’s website. “Similarly, if diesel particulate matter were removed from the air, estimated yearly health impacts would be 1,400 premature deaths, 200 hospitalizations and 600 emergency room visits.”
The list of health impacts associated with these pollutants includes respiratory problems, metabolic issues and increased cancer risks, as well as developmental concerns for children.
The current costs of the pollution for the economy in terms of illnesses, lost wages and other expenses, is projected to be well over $19 billion a year, Cacciotti said, but he was in front of the council to discuss how federal sanctions could impact the area, if the situation is not improved.
There are expected to be more than $40 million a year in additional permitting fees, a $600 million hit to highway funding and projected costs in the millions if a federal mandate is implemented, with pending deadlines coming this year, in 2031 and 2037.
One of the suggested changes that have already been discussed, Cacciotti said, is the Environmental Protection Agency limiting the number of cars on the road on certain days.
In an effort to avoid the federal repercussions, the South Coast AQMD presented several rebate options to encourage the purchase of cleaner equipment and vehicles.
A clean furnace can garner a resident up to a $1,500 rebate. There’s up to $250 available for those interested in an electric lawnmower and a $250 rebate for a level-2 electric-vehicle charger. And anyone interested in replacing their ride can qualify for up to $9,500 for a clean-air vehicle, transit passes, a car-sharing program or an e-bike.
“We’re going to develop a program for zero-emission appliances,” Cacciotti said, “for next year for your residence.”
Anyone interested in the details of the rebate programs can visit www.aqmd.gov/home/programs.