Forget diesel trucks and smoke-spewing sedans: Connecticut's newest anti-pollution initiative is aimed at some of the smallest engines on the market.
The state is offering cash incentives to municipalities this fall for scrapping their older, high-pollution lawn mowers, leaf blowers and chain saws.
The idea is similar to a "Cash for Clunkers" program for landscaping equipment, except the only eligible beneficiaries are local governments and school systems.
Also, the incentives are far higher: Connecticut will pay 80 cents on the dollar when municipalities buy new, low-pollution replacements.
"It's a win-win-win. It's not using tax money, the municipalities save money and it's helping the environment," said Paul Farrell, assistant director of air planning at the Department of Environmental Protection.
The DEP will pay towns, cities and schools from a $500,000 judgment that Connecticut won in 2003 from Ohio Edison, a Midwestern power generator that created air pollution in the Northeast.
Communities will compete for the money, and the DEP will choose the applications that show the best environmental gains — in most cases, that will mean communities with the most outdated lawn gear.
Earlier this month, the Region 8 school system filed one of the first requests for a share of the money. It's proposing to junk a 15-year-old chain saw, an 11-year-old riding mower, a 5-year-old industrial mower and a 2-year-old trimmer.
If the DEP approves its request, Region 8 will get to replace about $4,500 worth of equipment while spending just $900 of local tax money.
"It's great. It allows us to update and modernize our equipment when our budget is under a lot of stress," school finance Director William Mazzara said.
How much difference would a few hundred pieces of lawn equipment statewide really make to the environment? Farrell said the answer is surprising.
"Older small engines emit more pollution than a car. Cars have gotten a lot cleaner over the year, but small engines haven't," Farrell said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates that exchanging 1,000 gasoline-powered mowers for electric models could reduce the emission of volatile organic compounds to the same degree as taking 230 cars off the highways.
Parks departments, public works agencies and public school systems across the state stand to get thousands of dollars worth of machinery and tools at a steep discount through the Lawn Equipment Exchange Fund. They must purchase replacements that meet EPA or California standards for small engines.
The summertime air pollution caused by mowers, leaf vacuums, brush shredders, chain saws, edgers and trimmers contributes to forming smog and haze, said Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
"By replacing older equipment, municipalities can have equipment that is up to 70 percent cleaner than the old equipment," she said.
The program began last week and so far, Region 8 and Ellington are the only applicants for funds.