The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforced nearly $500,000 in fines and mandatory “environmental projects” on a school bus contractor for “excessive idling,” and as part of its anti-idling campaign to reduce the carbon footprint of school buses waiting to pick up children for their routes.
“As part of a settlement for alleged excessive diesel idling in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, Durham School Services will commit to reduce idling from its school bus fleet of 13,900 buses operating in 30 states,” read an EPA press release on Tuesday.
The EPA says an agency inspector two years ago spotted buses of the Durham School Services, the second largest school bus transportation contractor in the country, “idling for extended periods of time” in school lots in New England.
“The inspector observed some buses idling for close to two hours before departing the bus lot to pick up school children,” it said. State rules limit idling to three minutes in Connecticut and five minutes in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where the infractions occurred.
Durham reached a settlement for the violation and agreed to pay $90,000 in penalties. It also agreed to pay for $348,000 worth of environmental projects, including implementing a national training and management program “to prevent excessive idling from its entire fleet of school buses.”
Under the program Durham must require its supervisors to “monitor idling in school bus lots, post anti-idling signs in areas where drivers congregate, and notify the school districts it serves of its anti-idling policy.”
The EPA’s enforcement is part of its broader national campaign aimed at reducing idling among public school bus fleets. The federal agency claims a bus whose engine is running while stationary consumes about one-half gallon of fuel per hour.
“By reducing the idling time of each bus in its fleet by one hour per day, Durham would reduce its fuel use by 1.25 million gallons per year and avoid emitting 28 million pounds of carbon dioxide per year,” the release stated, adding, “Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.”
According to the EPA, as of 2006, 30 states plus the District of Columbia had either state, county or local anti-idling regulations in place, with the city of Philadelphia setting the maximum allowable time for diesel powered motor vehicles at two consecutive minutes.
The EPA Web site even provides a “do it yourself kit” for those wishing to bring the anti-idling campaign to their school district, providing brochures, posters, a “Teacher’s Guide for use in reinforcing key messages of the Idle-Reduction campaign,” and pledge cards for drivers that read, “I’m doing my share for clean air.”
Pledge cards issued by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (Image: EPA)
Also available for order are bus driver key chains “that can be used by bus drivers daily to remind them that they hold the key to a healthier ride,” and a five-minute training video entitled “Reducing School Bus Idling: The Key to a Healthier Ride.”
Also referenced is California’s 2003 anti-idling regulation that bus drivers must to turn off their vehicle within 100 feet of a school and must not turn the bus back on more than 30 seconds before beginning to depart – or face a minimum penalty of $100.
The EPA suggests purchasing block engine pre-heaters, which cost approximately $1,200 to $1,500 each, to reduce idling and warm up engines and passenger compartments during colder months. Also available are Compartment/Engine Block Heaters that cost approximately $2,300 to $2,500.
The EPA claims the diesel emitted from school buses pollutes the air, wastes fuel, causes excess engine wear, and is harmful to children’s health.
“Children, especially those suffering from asthma or other respiratory ailments, are particularly vulnerable to diesel exhaust,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, in announcing the fines levied on Durham.
“EPA is pleased with this settlement, which will dramatically limit school bus idling and help protect the health of school children in dozens of communities across the country,” he said.