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‘Cool’ car colors, gas powered lawn mowers & air quality

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POSTED June 17, 2013 12:30 a.m.

Do you drive a black car?

How about one with a metallic paint job?

About 40 percent of Californians drive either black or metallic color cars.

Who cares, you ask?

Sacramento does.

Four years ago the air quality folks floated a regulation that would have banned black and metallic exterior car colors and mandated “cool” colors for cars. The rationale was simple: Darker colors heat up the interior more so therefore they lead to more air conditioning use which in turn reduces gas mileage.

The 2009 proposal was filed — at least until a more opportune moment — given the political backlash.

The idea made sense until you realized it assumed everyone uses air conditioning the same. The theory was a 5 degree difference would change usage. But if someone perceives it to be hot it doesn’t make much difference. They will turn on the air conditioning.

While you can model gas savings and therefore reduce air pollution in reality it would be negligible in day-to-day reality.

Meanwhile, the state gives a pass to arguably the single biggest way to improve air quality without damaging the economy — the outlawing of two-stroke gasoline engines used for yard work.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District notes that during the time you operate a gas powered mover lawn mower it generates the same amount of air pollution for the same time frame as 40 new automobiles.

In terms of effectiveness both in improving air quality and the amount of money needed to accomplish such a goal, phasing out non-commercial gas powered yard equipment in urban settings seems to be a no-brainer.

The SJ Valley Air Quality folks are offering $1 million in rebates — up to $250 per lawn mower — for those who exchange a gas powered for a qualifying electric lawnmower. (Go to for details.)

You might grumble about freedom of choice, but consider this: Would you rather pay more for the next generation of reformulated gas or give up your gas powered lawn mower? Based on air quality experts, a move statewide to do away with gas powered lawn mowers would have significantly greater impact on air quality than tweaking the refining formula for gasoline that would only send it up even higher in the price you pay at the pump.

So why hasn’t the state made such a move?

The answer is special interests. And it isn’t who you think it is, either.

Instead of lawn mower manufacturers, previous attempts by municipalities and government agencies to outlaw gas powered yard maintenance equipment have been blocked by yard care folks.

While the primary target in Los Angeles was annoying leaf blowers, it never-the-less generated outrage from yard care workers of which a good number are undocumented immigrants.

What drove the LA proposal was noise pollution more than anything else.

One would think given the impact banning gas powered lawn equipment would be, that the state would outlaw its use at least in urban areas for non-commercial entities. And then, over time, phase out commercial entities engaged in lawn care while making practical exceptions. There isn’t an electric chainsaw, as an example, powerful enough to fall a large tree.

But most of the air quality issues aren’t from cutting down a tree. It is from cutting and edging grass and then taking a leaf blower to it week in and week out.

Given there will be significant reductions in air and noise pollution, you would think the state would craft regulations banning such gas powered equipment instead of coming up with proposals to regulate car colors based on a theory that fails to factor in the human equation. A white colored car doesn’t stop someone from turning on the air conditioning when it is 70 degrees. As a result, there is no guarantee of reduced air pollution.

That’s not the same for a gas powered lawn mower replaced by an electric one.

We can’t solve air quality issues without regulations. That said we need regulations that make sense and get the most bang for the buck while having a minimal impact on the economic well being of individuals and the state.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.

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