To the Chagrin of State's Largest School Bus Operator, DEP Never Stands Idle on this Point

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When a police officer or a DEP inspector tells you to stop your engine, it’s best not to act like you can’t hear them over the hum of the pistons. 

No one driving a motor vehicle that has come to a stop may keep the engine running for longer than five minutes.  That’s the law in Massachusetts. 
There are some exceptions to the five-minute rule, such as for vehicles making deliveries, but most motorists, truck and bus drivers are bound by it in most situations.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has had an active anti-idling program for years.  As part of it, the agency educates school bus companies and drivers on the anti-idling law and enforces it during spot checks at schools.  Children are especially vulnerable to the exhaust gases and particulate matter produced by diesel engines. Think of how many kids you know who have asthma and carry inhalers with them to school.  The danger posed by a parked-but-running school bus, or a whole line of such buses, is real and immediate.
Earlier this month, the operator of the largest fleet of school buses in Massachusetts agreed to a whopping settlement in a case related to anti-idling violations and related problems.

Under that agreement, First Student, Inc. will pay $300,000 in civil penalties for idling violations outside schools and at its own facilities, and $150,000 to help fund state projects aimed at reducing particulate emissions and encouraging the wider use of hybrid motor vehicles.
First Student, a subsidiary of FirstGroup America, operates around 1,700 school buses in more than 30 Massachusetts communities.

According to a March 5 press release from the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley, MassDEP conducted in 2008 and 2009 a series of unannounced inspections at Massachusetts public schools and other locations where First Student operates diesel-powered buses.  Those inspections, the release said, “found many instances of unnecessary idling” at schools in Springfield, Brockton, South Boston, Dorchester, Roxbury and Roslindale.  The Coakley press release went on to say:
“An administrative consent order, signed in 2010 between MassDEP and First Student, required the company to cease excessive idling, properly educate its drivers, inspect its own facilities and schools for idling instances, and report to MassDEP on a quarterly basis.  As part of the order, First Student paid the Commonwealth a $40,000 administrative penalty.

“The company has paid administrative penalties on this and two other occasions totaling $75,000 for non-compliance with the state’s anti-idling regulation.  First Student also paid $128,000 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2009 for idling violations in eight states, including Massachusetts.
“While First Student complied in part with the 2010 consent order with MassDEP, the Commonwealth again found numerous idling violations by company drivers between June 2010 and January 2013 at parking lot locations and schools across the Commonwealth, and also found First Student failed to conduct required inspections and to properly report violations.”

We’ve all used the expression, “Your tax dollars at work.” 
Always we use it sarcastically, as when we see a state police officer in a cruiser parked in the passing lane of a highway, blue lights flashing, but with no ostensible reason to be there, making the traffic crawl, or when we call a department of state government and get drawn into a humongous list of options -- “If you want the second assistant deputy secretary, press  0” – and are sent ultimately to an extension that no longer accepts messages because “the mailbox is full.” 

This is the first time I’m using it ingenuously:  “Your tax dollars at work?  Easy:  DEP’s anti-idling program.”


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