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.

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.