Boston- State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield) and State Representative Stephen R. Canessa (D-New Bedford) announce today that they have filed legislation prohibiting buses, commercial, and personal vehicles from idling on school property.
“Massachusetts has an opportunity to ensure cleaner air on school grounds while reducing fuel consumption and costs - all through the elimination of unnecessary engine idling. This bill is about improving our public health, environmental awareness, and fiscal responsibility,” said Downing.
The legislation, entitled “An Act to Improve School Campus Air Quality,” compliments existing programming administered by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). DEP’s Idling Reduction Tool Kit aids cities and towns in their efforts to reduce idling and improve air quality. For the past three years, more than 36 communities statewide, including Egremont and Williamstown, have participated in DEP’s campaign. Still other towns, including Lenox, have developed their own response to excessive vehicle idling on school grounds.
Inspired by local action in Lenox and the work of Rick Gregg, founder and Coordinator of the “Idle-Free” Lenox Campaign, this legislation is gaining swift popularity amongst Massachusetts legislators attracting 48 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and Senate.
As lead sponsor in the House of Representatives, Canessa said, “As a legislator, I am greatly concerned about issues affecting our environment and our public’s health and safety. Parents, educators and legislators are concerned with the health and safety of our state’s students and school personnel. This piece of legislation aims to protect both our environment and all people who could be adversely impacted by unnecessary engine idling on public school property.”
Rick Gregg spoke about the need for action stating, “Years ago, we banned the use of tobacco products and eliminated secondhand smoke from all school properties in Massachusetts. Now it’s time to ban unnecessary engine idling, which this legislation will do. This is the best way to ensure clean and healthy air for our children, teachers, staff and school bus drivers.”
If passed, this legislation will ban any vehicle, including buses, school, commercial, and personal vehicles from idling on school campuses across Massachusetts; violators will be subject to a fine of $100 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses. Fines collected will be deposited into the new “Environmental Education Fund” created by this bill. The Fund will be administered by the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs and will be used to support environmental education initiatives at school. In addition to legislative support, this measure is endorsed by the American Lung Association of Massachusetts, the National Resources Defense Council, the Center for Ecological Technology, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Climate Crisis Coalition and Sustainable South Shore.
Jeffrey Seyler, CEO of the American Lung Association of Massachusetts, said “Providing a school environment that ensures healthier air for children, teachers and staff to breathe is extremely important. The collective impact of all school campuses becoming idle-free will be significant.”
“Eliminating school bus idling is the simplest way to cut children’s exposure to dirty fumes and save fuel at the same time,” said Rachel Kassel, National Resources Defense Council’s Clean Fuels and Vehicles Director. “Supporting this bill makes sense for anybody who wants to protect kids and cut fuel costs.”
According to a 2002 research report from Environment & Human Health, Inc. in Connecticut examining children’s exposure to diesel exhaust on school buses, an estimated 600,000 school buses transport 24 million U.S. students to and from school each day. In Massachusetts alone, more than 750,000 children ride roughly 9,000 school buses and 770 school vehicles each day. Diesel school buses emit carbon particulates as well as 40 known chemicals classified as “hazardous air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. With 99 percent of school buses powered by diesel fuel, children are at an increased risk of inhaling toxic fumes when boarding and exiting idling buses. Additionally, building air quality is compromised, especially for classrooms and offices adjacent to bus platforms as emissions can easily seep through doors and windows.
Engine Exhaust Impact on Public Health
In addition to school transit vehicles, many drivers leave their engines running while waiting to drop off or pick up children at schools. Passenger vehicle exhaust contains many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke. According to the American Lung Association, exhaust emissions can exacerbate symptoms of asthma, bronchitis, existing allergies and other respiratory issues.
Economy of Idling
Widely misunderstood, idling engines instead of shutting off and restarting does not save fuel. In fact, idling engines longer than 10 seconds uses more fuel than it would take to turn off and restart the vehicle. Interestingly, vehicles that idle 10 minutes per day waste more than 29 gallons of fuel each year. Nationwide, school buses in the U.S. idle-away 189 million gallons of diesel fuel each year.
The bill, SD 2483, was referred to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources & Agriculture by the Massachusetts Senate. The House of Representatives must concur with this referral before the Committee can actively consider the bill.