In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, officials in South Portland may soon consider banning gasoline-powered lawn equipment including lawn mowers and leaf blowers.

In 2020, South Portland unveiled the One Climate Future Plan, a joint effort with the city of Portland that lays out short and long-term environmental sustainability goals for both cities. 

The report’s authors wrote that decarbonization should include “addressing small motor equipment” that includes gasoline-fueled leaf blowers, lawn mowers and other equipment.

The report also states that such small engines also produce enough pollution so as to be a public health concern, “in addition to their high decibel noise levels.”

There is no formal proposal yet for banning such lawn equipment in South Portland. The council had been set to discuss the One Climate plan last week, but that meeting was canceled because of a winter storm, according to the Portland Press Herald, which first reported on the issue. The council may consider it at an upcoming meeting.

Julie Rosenbach, the city’s sustainability director, declined to describe any proposal banning gas-powered lawn equipment in detail until after the council had a chance to discuss it.

If such a measure passed, South Portland would be the first community in Maine to institute such a ban.

However, there are 100 cities nationwide that have banned gasoline-powered mowers and leaf blowers, according to Robin Craig, an environmental law professor at the University of Southern California. Other major cities, such as Boston, New York City and Seattle, are considering it. 

California enacted a ban in 2022 that goes into effect in 2024. New York and Illinois are also considering statewide bans, she said.

Craig said for many people, a ban of this nature seems insignificant, because lawn mowers don’t produce enough toxic fumes to be a concern, but she disagrees.

“You get a lot of people who are sitting there right on top of the fumes, breathing them in, so you get a lot of individual damage,” she said. “Cumulatively, it adds up. It can be as bad as cars in some respects.”

Such a ban might be unwelcome for repair shops. Tom Harden, of Tom’s Small Engine Repair in Sanford, said he hopes communities don’t start banning gasoline-powered equipment throughout Maine.

“If it comes to that, I’d probably retire,” he said.

Harden said he has been in business since the spring of 1994. Over the past year, he said, his shop has had “maybe two or three” customers with electric-powered lawn equipment, and, most of the time, the problem was as simple as a user who didn’t put the key in properly or a defective battery that is easy to replace.

More complex engine work, such as a carburetor cleaning, he said, isn’t necessary with electric engines.

“I’m really not interested in taking them (electric engines) in, because there’s really not much I can do with them,” he said.