July 2, 2018 Testimony of Nancy Sainburg

From the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole Hearing on July 2, 2018. testimony from Nancy Sainburg.

Chair Phil Mendelson: . We'll proceed now with the witnesses. I may call witnesses up four at a time. Nancy SainburgCatherine PlumeDavid Cottingham, who's with the Audubon Naturalist Society. And Zack Kline. And Miss Plume is with the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club. Please be mindful of the time. I don't know if there'll be a chime as a warning. There will be a chime when your time is up, but the yellow light will go on, and then the red. Miss Sainburg?

Sainburg: Thank you. Good afternoon, my name is Nancy Sainburg, and I'm the owner of the Enchanted Garden, a landscaping company located here in DC. We've been in business for over 30 years, and a majority of our business is in DC. We provide services to clients with properties as small as townhouses, and as large as several acres. Both commercial and residential properties. 

You may hear some testimony today that it is not possible for landscape professionals to do our job without gas-powered blowers. But I can tell you from my own experience that that is completely untrue. We've been using only battery-operated blowers for the past two years, and have had no trouble keeping up with the work in a timely manner. We've had no complaints from clients that our services are taking more time, and have heard nothing but compliments on low noise levels from the battery blowers. 

My epiphany regarding the switch from gas blowers to battery blowers occurred two years ago. I was out walking my dog, and I heard a leaf blower. When I got closer to the noise, I realized that it was my own landscape crew, who were finishing up an installation in my neighborhood. I had heard it from over two blocks away. That was it for me. The noise pollution was just too much. 

I went out the next week and bought a battery-operated blower to see how well it worked. The initial reaction from my crew was, "Okay, we'll give this toy a try." But pretty soon they were favoring the battery-powered blowers over the gas blowers. The following spring season, we switched to all battery-powered equipment. The crew asked if we could keep one gas blower for the fall leaf season, and I decided to see what would happen. Once the fall season came, no one even once mentioned using the gas blower. The people who worked with this equipment every day have said that they enjoy using it much more than the gas equipment. They're not subjected to high noise levels, and they don't have headaches at the end of the day, which was often a complaint. Thank you. From the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole Hearing on July 2, 2018. testimony from Daniel Mustico, representing the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the lobby for lawn-equipment manufacturers.



Mendelson: Thank you, Mr. Kline. Thank you to each of you for your testimony. I have some questions. Members will have a five-minute round. Let me ask the two companies at both ends of the table. So, with the gas-powered leaf blowers, do your employees use ear plugs? Can you speak into the microphone?

Sainburg: With the gas-powered, yes, they wore ear plugs or a headset.

Mendelson: Mr. Kline?

Kline: We don't use gasoline-powered, so we don't have to. But with OSHA standards, you're supposed to.

Mendelson: Now, with the battery-powered, you don't use ear plugs, either of you?

Kline: No.

Mendelson: Now, I'm not familiar with either. So, is it really significantly quieter, the battery?

Sainburg: Really. It's like a vacuum cleaner. It's significant.

Mendelson: And Mr. Kline, you're nodding your head.

Kline: Yeah, the frequency you have when you compare the two, of a gasoline-powered versus a battery, gasoline sound travels a lot farther, which is why we obviously have this issue today, versus the battery-powered, where it's more so on site. And even then it's not really that loud.

Mendelson: Now what about the effectiveness? So, it's your testimony that the battery-powered is just as effective as the gasoline-powered?

Sainburg: Equally as effective. Yeah, I think people have this in their head that if it's noisier it's better and it's more powerful, but that's not really always the case.

Mendelson: Mr. Kline?

Kline: Agreed. I mean, a lot of the properties here in the District that we manage are very small, so there's no issue in terms of not having enough runtime, or not being able to get the job done.

Mendelson: Now, Mr. Kline, in your statement near the end you said that the battery-powered require less protective gear to be safe. Is that a reference to the ear plugs, or something else?

Kline: Correct, the ear plugs.

Mendelson: And you also said, Mr. Kline, battery-powered equipment may be somewhat more expensive to purchase up front, but it comes with a much lower cost of maintenance and ownership compared with gasoline-powered equipment. Can you explain?

Kline: Yeah, sure. So, with EPA regulations nowadays, a lot of engines on smaller equipment are becoming smaller for that reason. And if you combine that with the increase in ethanol fuel, a lot of these engines will gum up in their carburetors, so you're looking at a lot more maintenance costs down the road. As opposed with battery-powered, you're paying more for that up front, but then you have less costs in terms of charging with electricity, and less costs with maintaining the actual piece of equipment.

Mendelson: Miss Sainburg, do you want to add anything?

Sainburg: Yeah, the other thing about the gas-powered, there are some that say they have a lower decibel level. But in order to keep those things properly maintained, you would have to have a Ferrari mechanic or something to keep them up to that level all of the time. And no company can do that. They have to put them out of service in order to keep them at that optimum level all of the time, and that just doesn't happen.

Mendelson: That's with regard to how noisy--

Sainburg: To a gas-powered blower, there are several on the market that are saying that they are of low decibel level. But to have them, to work at that low decibel level, they would have to be tuned to a very high level of precision, regularly. Because, as Zack was saying, they gum up very quickly.

Mendelson: Okay. Councilmember Cheh, do you have questions?

Cheh: Yes, just a few. One is an observation. I think the witnesses who talked about the variety of folks and animals who are affected by this, and you know, we're not just talking about folks sitting in their lawn chair, we're talking about the workers. We're talking about wildlife. And we're talking about people who are trying to work. So, I just wanted to underline that point. But about the businesses, I did want to ask one further question, and the Chairman made reference to this, about the fact that maybe initially they're a little bit more expensive, but over time they're easier, or less costly, rather, to maintain. Is it the case, I thought I saw this somewhere that the costs of the battery-powered machines are in any event coming down?

Kline: Yeah, there's a lot more companies in the outdoor power equipment industry, especially in the handheld market. If you go to the-- Which I go to the industry conference every year down in Louisville, Kentucky, a lot more manufacturers are jumping on board. Which, simple economics, supply and demand. Prices are coming down. It's just a matter of education and letting people know that these do exist, because as Nancy [Sainburg] mentioned a moment ago, a lot of contractors are hesitant because they don't feel like it has the power, the ability to do the job. But as we both proved, you can do the job and still be in business.

Cheh: Right, and I wanted to follow up on that, as well. As I was coming in here, I was asked a question by somebody in the media, and they said, "Well, you know what, it may be that they can do the job, but it may take longer to do the job." And so while then noise might be reduced, it goes on for a longer period of time. Is there anything to that?

Kline: You can go into Home Depot and actually buy a battery-powered leaf blower made by Echo. It puts out about 550 CFM, at about 100--

Cheh: Don't go technical on me.

Kline: Sorry. Basically, that's the volume at which you can push the air, and it's actually the most powerful leaf blower in the Home Depot aisle. The only difference is that it's battery-powered versus the gasoline options.

Cheh: Okay, and is that your experience as well?

Sainburg: Yeah, they work great. They don't seem to slow us down at all.

Cheh: Okay. So it's not going to extend the period of time during which the machines will be operating?

Sainburg: Not at all. No, I don't think so.