Lawmakers tried to ban gas generators

In 2023, Oregon Lawmakers authored a bill to ban gas generators, leaf blowers and lawnmowers.
By Samantha Bayer
Oregon Property Owners Association

Over the past few days, severe ice and snowstorms have pummeled the northern part of the state. Over the weekend, power companies reported thousands of outages around the metro area and the state amid high winds, snow, and ice. On Monday evening, PGE’s outage map still showed over 40,000 customers without power, and some communities, like Corbett, were going on multiple days with no water or power.

Losing power is particularly dangerous for the elderly.  As we age, our bodies become less efficient at regulating heat, making seniors significantly more vulnerable to colder temperatures resulting from the loss of power.  In areas where downed trees result in power outages, the elderly face significant risk.

In Oregon, between heavy winter storms and preemptive wildfire-related power shut-offs in the summer, many families are prepared to get by without power for a few days. Equipped with generators and stockpiles of food, some families stand ready to hunker down until power can be restored.

Today, portable gas-powered generators aren’t terribly hard to find… for now. But that all may change if the Legislature decides to bring back a highly-controversial bill from last legislative Session – SB 525.

Sponsored by a group of Portland-area legislators, SB 525 would have directed the Department of Environmental Quality to make rules prohibiting new “small nonroad engines” that produce “emissions or evaporative exhaust” after Jan. 1, 2026. A “small nonroad engine” means “an engine of less than 25 horsepower that is not designed primarily to propel a motor vehicle on public highways.” Think gas-powered leaf blowers, lawnmowers, power tools, and yes, generators. While there were no express protections in the bill for generators, the bill did direct the agency to “consider” the availability of zero-emission generators and emergency response equipment when making the rules.

Proponents of the bill testified that banning small non-road engines was important to reduce air pollution, noise pollution, and climate warming carbon pollution. Ironically, many proponents of the bill testified that gas-powered small nonroad engines must be banned because catastrophic storms were getting worse, putting Oregonians in dire emergency situations. However, proponents of the bill failed to acknowledge the value of things like gas-powered generators and power tools during emergencies when there is no electricity.

Opponents of the bill raised significant concerns about performance and run-time issues with battery powered or electric engines, especially for emergency responders and rural property owners who rely on steady, reliable, and continuous performance when using equipment powered by non-road engines. Like generators, chain saws are often used in off-grid emergency response situations, but require a continuous and strong power source – far more than what battery powered equipment can provide.

Moreover, Oregon’s loggers and timber industry pointed out that zero-emission small nonroad equipment needed for their sector does not exist:

“Of critical note are firefighting water pumps, cable yarding carriages, industrial chainsaws and a whole suite of restoration equipment (industrial pole saws, brush cutters and more). These are all vitally important pieces of small nonroad equipment for the forest operator community that are, currently, technologically infeasible to be made into zero-emission replacements or cannot be created with similar functionality and capacity resulting in decreased production, increased down time and reduced margins for the small businesses of Oregon.”

SB 525 died in Committee and was never sent to the Senate or House floor for a vote. At this time, it is unclear whether sponsors of the bill plan to bring a version back in the 2024 Session.

OPOA expects this issue to continue to be a topic of conversation and something property owners should keep their eye on. In 2021, California banned the sale of new gas-powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers starting in 2024, and portable generators by 2028. It is likely that proponents will push Oregon to follow suit, despite the increased risk of power outages year-round.

— The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not represent the opinions or positions of any party represented by the OPOA Legal Center on any particular matter.