On Oct. 9, 2021, California Gov. Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 1346, which will require the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and emissions from small off-road engines (SORE), such as lawn mowers, portable generators, and the profusion of other equipment utilizing small gasoline engines for power, by July 1, 2022. The Legislature did not provide any specific guidance on what regulations CARB must adopt, requiring only that these new regulations be “cost-effective and technologically feasible.”

Assembly Bill 1346 is a step towards fulfilling Executive Order No. N-79-20 of Sept. 23, 2020, which directs CARB to implement strategies to achieve 100% zero emissions from off-road equipment in California by 2035, when feasible and cost-effective. The Legislature notes that SORE emit significantly high levels of air pollutants. In 2020, California daily emissions of specific air pollutants from SORE were higher than emissions from light-duty passenger cars. Despite their high emission levels, SORE previously were not highly regulated, one of the reasons the sponsors of the bill noted as why such action was necessary.

While the new law aligns with California’s overall goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045, opponents of the bill raise concerns about the feasibility of zero-emission SORE. Not only are battery-powered SORE more expensive, but current battery technology in some cases cannot generate torque necessary to come close to the power performance level required to accomplish the tasks now performed by SORE. They also require frequent recharging, which can be infeasible in outdoor rural and remote areas where such equipment is often used.

CARB has until July 1, 2022, to answer these questions and to do so in a feasible and efficient way. SORE manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and end-product users may wish to weigh in on the new CARB regulations. Those seeking assistance in navigating this rulemaking should work with experienced California environmental counsel.