July 2, 2018 Testimony of Bob Mann, National Association of Landscape Professionals

From the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole Hearing on July 2, 2018. testimony of Bob Mann, National Association of Landscape Professionals.

Mendelson: Thank you to each of you for your testimony. Are you Bob Mann? You're Bob Mann? Great, why don't you start? And you all had pre-arranged six minutes each.

Mann: Chairman Mendelson, members of the Council. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. My name is Bob Mann. I'm the Director of State and Local Government Relations of the National Association of Landscape Professionals located in Fairfax, Virginia. I represent over 900 NALP members in the District and the surrounding counties in Virginia and Maryland that maintain landscapes in Washington. 

NALP opposes this regulation. I want to acknowledge the concerns of those who have come here today. As you might be aware, leaf blower ban proposals are not unique to the District, leading NALP to take tangible steps to ensure that all companies are aware of best practices, as leaf blowers are a necessary and vital portion of our industry's toolbox. 

Together with our colleagues at Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, we have developed and are implementing a backpack blower safety and responsible operation pledge, as well as tips for both backpack blower safe and courteous operation. I've provided you with a copy of that with my testimony today. As we work towards enrolling all of our members in this program, we train operators to follow best practices at all times, resulting in an effective balance of community stewardship and protection of our environment. 

As a practical matter, gasoline-powered leaf blowers are indispensable tools that are necessary in keeping the District beautiful. Millions of people come from all over the world to visit Washington and enjoy the over 7,500 acres of parks, and marvel at the beautiful landscapes. Trees, lawns, and gardens are naturally messy spaces that require constant tending, especially in the early spring and in the fall, when tree leaves drop. 

There simply is no viable alternative to gasoline-powered blowers. While excellent for homeowner use, electric-powered blowers on the market today do not have sufficient power or duration to replace gasoline engines for professional use. Leaf blowers are labor multipliers. An employee with a blower can accomplish what two or more employees can with manual tools. In an economy where unemployment rate is in the single digits, landscape contractors are finding it impossible to find sufficient quantities of employees, excuse me, to meet demand. There simply aren't enough employees to wield leaf rakes to replace the work performed by leaf blowers. 

Mind you, the language in this bill does not differentiate between small, portable blowers and large-scale blowers. You're attempting to prohibit all gasoline-powered blowers. Most of the noise and emission problems concerning leaf blowers stem from antiquated and ill-maintained equipment. More stringent regulation on small, two-stroke engines, both from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board, have yielded much-improved noise and emissions performance. As older equipment is phased out in lieu of new, better-performing equipment models, the environmental impact of these tools will abate. 

We feel that these advances, along with our campaign to increase awareness on the part of our members, will help allay your concerns, so that we can have both a quiet and beautifully-maintained Washington. We respectfully request that the Council reject this measure. Thank you very much for your time and attention.



Mendelson: My time is almost up, so let me turn to Mr. Mann. Your testimony seems to be more about the value of leaf blowers than gas, although you do say gas. There was testimony earlier that battery-powered leaf blowers are just as effective. 

Mann: Excuse me. I disagree, and that's from my personal observation. They're good up to a certain point. After a certain point, they under-perform the gasoline blowers. Now, mind you, the language in your bill doesn't define gasoline motors as being something you wear on your back, something you push, something that you use on a large scale. You're simply banning gasoline-powered blowers altogether. I wouldn't be-- I really don't believe that that's the way to go. It is just a blanket ban on blowers, and then not differentiating between what's good, what's bad. 

What I would like to see is that a lot of what we see as far as what drives complaints are people that are, or landscapers that are well meaning, but come into a neighborhood, two, three, four backpacks, and just try to blast out a house all at once, all blowing at the same time, all blowing towards the truck, you know, the debris, the leaves, and so forth. I believe that's what's driving the complaints. 

And I think if you were to add in a behavioral aspect to this, train people to be more courteous of their neighbors, train people to keep up their equipment better, train people not to keep their equipment as long, buy equipment that is more modern, and the engineering has taken into account the data that has been demonstrated here. Manufacturers are very sensitive to these types of things. They hear the complaints, as well. And it's not as though they can't react to that and make equipment that is less noisy and emits less. I mean, not only the EPA that's come up with regulations, but other states that have come out with regulations, so there's a regulatory push towards getting things cleaner. 

And I would much rather see that that is the common ground that we can find between, you know, on our end an amount of work that needs to get done in a certain amount of time, with a certain amount of resources, and your concern that we're making too much noise. I think we can meet in the middle by listening to one another and finding some common ground.

Mendelson: Thank you. Councilmember Cheh?

Cheh: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Mann, I have a couple of questions off of your testimony. The first one, Mr. Chairman, you brought it up, your statement that there's simply no viable alternative to gasoline-powered blowers. And he made the point, which is evident here, that there are witnesses who testified to the contrary. But moving on to some other points, you also have a paragraph to talk about leaf blowers as “labor multipliers”, and you're talking about leaf blowers undifferentiated. You're talking about leaf blowers, but you compare them to manual tools. 

We're not talking about telling people that they have to use rakes. And so the question is whether your point about labor multipliers really doesn't respond to what we're doing here, namely a differentiation between gas blowers and battery blowers. Is that correct?

Mann: I think it's important to point out that what I'm hearing both from you and from others testifying is that most of the complaints are being driven by residential neighborhoods. People, you know, landscapers working on small properties, and trying to work and exist within those confines. However, the District has a lot of different space, a lot of different landscape spaces, all the way from what I've just mentioned to large spaces like the National Mall and then that type of thing, where there is just an abundance of tree litter that needs to be cleaned up.

Cheh: No, but excuse me, I'm sorry, because I have a limited amount of time. That's not responsive to the question about whether leaf blowers are labor multipliers, differentiating between gas powered and battery powered.

Mann: My answer to that would be the battery-powered blowers, as they exist on the marketplace today, have an excellent space within the residential use, because they're small. You know, small areas, small amounts of debris.

Cheh: No, I'm sorry.

Mann: I must not be understanding your question.

Cheh: You make the point in your paragraph that leaf blowers are labor multipliers, and then you compare it with what amount of work you can do by using manual tools like rakes. We're not talking about that as the comparison here. I want to make that point. I've tried enough, I'll move on. The other thing that you talk about is you say there's been a lot of improvement with the gas blower, the gas-powered leaf blowers have been much improved. But that's a relative statement. That doesn't mean they're equivalent yet, right?

Mann: No, I'm not going to suggest that at all. No.

Cheh: Okay. Does your improvements point capture both improvements in the differences in frequency, the decibel levels, but also the frequency of the noise.

Mann: No, I can't speak to that, I'm afraid.