July 2, 2018 Testimony of Daniel Mustico, Outdoor Power Equipment Institute

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.

It is followed by questions from D.C. Council members, and rebuttal testimony from Charles "Chuck" Elkins, an elected Advisory Neighborhood Commission member.

Council Chair Mendelson: Mr. Mustico?

Mustico: Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Cheh, members of the Council. My name is Daniel Mustico. I serve as Vice President of Government & Market Affairs for the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the trade association representing manufacturers of leaf blowers. My testimony today is in opposition to the proposed legislation, as it is the wrong approach to addressing the identified concerns. Instead, we should recognize and rely on the continuous innovation of these products, and improved education about their safe and courteous use. 

These market-based solutions alleviate the need for this legislation. First, leaf blowers do more than just blow leaves. They are used by landscapers and homeowners to clean yards, parking lots, and sports stadiums. Remove snow, clean gutters, and clear flammable degree. Communities want safe and clean spaces and landscapes, and often leaf blowers are the best solution. 

On product innovation, manufacturers have invested millions of dollars in the last 15 years, resulting in blowers that are as much as 75% quieter, and gas-powered engines that have reduced air emissions as much as 90%. Continuous improvements to both electric and gas-powered leaf blowers are effectively addressing the underlying concerns of this legislation. On safe and courteous use education, OPEI has developed new videos for use by landscapers and retailers in explaining manufacturer-recommended use guidelines. This series is included in a toolkit provided in our written submittal to the Council, and is also publicly available at OPEI.org/leafblowers. As an example, I'd like to play the following video which focuses on noise concerns.

Video: That's why we're committed to taking steps to reduce our impact on the community. How do we do this? Well, to start, we're constantly looking for ways to improve our technologies. And in the last decade alone, we've decreased the noise level of leaf blowers by 75%. And with the help of further technological innovations, landscapers now have access to leaf blowers, both gas and electric, that only reach 64 decibels. 

But we know that using the latest equipment is not enough. That's why we are committed to holding ourselves to the highest standard when it comes to safe and courteous use. What does that mean? It means:
•    being sensitive to the time of day, and planning ours accordingly, 
•    making sure other landscapers and bystanders are at least 50 feet away while blowing, and
•    turning off our leaf blowers when approached,
•    using reduced-noise leaf blowers in sensitive areas, and
•    not using more than one leaf blower at a time. 

Why are we committed to bringing about positive change? Because the communities we're responsible for are our communities. Let's make something to be proud of.

Mustico: In conclusion, we ask for the Council's consideration of these market-based solutions in place of the subject legislation. This bill will only have adverse impacts on the city's businesses and residents who use, sell, and rely on these important products. Thank you for the time to express our concerns.


Mendelson: Thank you. Mr. Mustico, in your statement you referred to a toolkit provided to the Council. I'm not aware of what you're talking about.

Mustico: There's a link in the letter that I provided which will direct you to the URL on our website that has a description of this toolkit. There's a total of four videos there, one of which I played, focused on noise. The others talk about emissions, dust, and then there's a more comprehensive long-play video there as well. So, that's the toolkit I referred to, and it's posted publicly online.

Mendelson: Okay. Thank you. So OPEI represents the manufacturers of outdoor power equipment, including leaf blowers, correct?

Mustico: Correct.

Mendelson: And so you could answer some questions for me, such as, what is the lifespan of a leaf blower?

Mustico: I think they vary from product to product, from manufacturer to manufacturer. I certainly can't testify to an average life cycle on a product.

Mendelson: Does your website have that information?

Mustico: No, I don't believe it does.

Mendelson: And is it correct that battery-operated leaf blowers are quieter, always quieter than gasoline-powered leaf blowers?

Mustico: I can't speak to that as a universal rule. I think product to product is different. I certainly think there are offerings, as has been talked about today, companies are innovating with battery-powered blowers certainly for their advantage in lower noise. But from manufacturer to manufacturer, I can't testify as to which products are quieter or not.

Mendelson: And your website doesn't have that?

Mustico: No, we don't provide reviews of member-company products or specific information about their products.

Mendelson: I have one more question, Councilmember Cheh, and I say that because I'm a little over my time. Your statement concludes, "This bill will only have adverse impacts on the city's businesses and residents, who use, sell, and rely on these important products." Why do you say that? Because there's an alternative to the gas-powered leaf blowers. The bill becomes effective in January 1st, 2022, so presumably that would be ample time for commercial operators to replace the leaf blowers, which maybe will have expired or used up their life.

Mustico: That may be the case. In some cases, I think my more general point that the market is the best determinant of this is just saying that the people who rely on these different types of pieces of equipment to perform certain tasks, whether they're homeowners or commercial entities that rely on landscape crews or any other crews to do work for them, they're going to want to use the products that are in the market that perform in the best way to do the job they need done. 

And I just feel that in the long term, our position is that it's best that the market dictate what products are best for those jobs, and they have availability to them. That was my only point. And I think it puts restraints on the many businesses in the District that rely on these products, and certainly homeowners and business owners that employ people to use them, if they don't have the full range of options of equipment that are available in the market to do jobs.

Mendelson: Thank you. I'm over my time. Mr. Elkins, can it be brief?

Elkins: I would just respond to that. The marketplace makes a lot of sense, except when there are externalities, and there are two major externalities here that are not controlled by the person who's buying the equipment, namely the lawn maintenance people. The hearing protection of their workers and the residents who are affected in the neighborhood. And so waiting for the marketplace to take care of the workers and take care of the neighbors is a false dependence on the marketplace. There is a role for regulation, and in this case it's a technology regulation that makes sense.

Mendelson: Councilmember Cheh?

Cheh: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Commissioner Elkins, you took my point, which I was going to make as well. You know, markets are sometimes imperfect, depending upon who you are thinking about. And there are different groups that we're thinking about here, as well. And I would just note, Mr. Mustico, that your statement about-- And it reflects something in the statement of someone else earlier, we're conflating, collapsing leaf blowers of both kinds when you say that leaf blowers do more than just blow leaves, they do all of this good stuff. 

We're not talking about leaf blowers in totality, we're talking about certain kinds of leaf blowers, and so, I think what we need is we need the technology to be put in place that protects all of the entities and people that are affected by how the leaf blower operates--which includes workers, which includes the residents, and includes, of course, people that want their lawns cleaned. If we have an alternative, which we do, that can address the problems of the gas-powered leaf blowers, we ought to take it, and that's what the bill is attempting to do. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.