The D.C. City Council Takes a Very Big Step

On Tuesday afternoon, December 4, 2018, the Washington D.C. City Council unanimously approved the “second reading” of Bill 22-234, which mandates a phase-out of gas-powered leaf blowers in the District over the next three years.

Headline from story by Rachel Kurzius  in DCist .

Headline from story by Rachel Kurzius in DCist.

This is not quite the end of the story—yet. The Mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, could in principle veto the bill. But she has given no indication that she differs from the wishes of the elected Council. Even if she did, a mayor’s veto can be over-ridden by a two-thirds vote of the Council—and so far, all Council actions on the measure have been unanimously in favor of it. (Legislation for the District must first be considered and voted on by a committee of the City Council, and then go through two “readings,” or votes, by the full Council. This bill got through all these stages—committee approval, then first and second readings—on unanimous voice votes.)

Another theoretical peril: in principle the U.S. Congress has 30 days to overturn local DC legislation—as it has notoriously done (and tried to do) with some measures over the years. But it seems hard to imagine either the outgoing lame-duck 115th Congress, so many of whose members are retiring or were defeated, or the brand-new incoming 116th Congress putting this on its to-do agenda in the next few weeks.

So until this is 100% done, it remains technically in the “almost” rather than “completely” enacted category. But at this point, full conversion of this bill into a law seems just a matter of time. A frequent phrase on this site has been “accelerating the inevitable”—hastening the inevitable move away from technologically obsolete, grossly polluting, damagingly loud gas-powered lawn equipment, and to the quickly emerging battery-powered alternatives. “The inevitable,” as applies to this aspect of public life in the nation’s capital, now appears to be at hand.

Leading up to this “inevitability,” as chronicled over the years on this site, have been: hundreds of hours of neighborhood meetings across the District; scores of presentations to civic, environmental, and local-government groups; dozens of discussions with public-health officials, industry and labor representatives, and government staffers; numerous videos; original acoustic research; ongoing consultation with groups around the country; and other efforts.

Council member Mary Cheh introduced and stood behind this bill; Council chair Phil Mendelson brought it up for a full hearing and for timely action through the Council; and other Council members heard the arguments and took their stands.

This is not the end of the story, but it’s a significant turning point.