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No idling

From the inbox, from last week:

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker and Houston City Council today approved two significant ordinances that will improve Houston’s quality of life and protect public health: an anti-idling ordinance for motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 14,000 pounds; and a commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

“Adopting these ordinances are more key milestones for my administration,” said Mayor Annise Parker. “While we are excited to join the ranks of other Texas cities that have also passed idling reduction policies, we are proud to be the first city in Texas that has adopted a commercial PACE program. We all have to work together in improving our air quality and quality of life.”

Idling Reduction:

Idling is one contributor to air quality issues in the region. Nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter (PM) are emitted from vehicle engine exhaust and can form ground-level ozone, or smog. Diesel engines emit hazardous air pollutants which have been linked to serious illnesses, including asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, and cancer. Children, elderly, and those with asthma and other chronic health problems are especially vulnerable to the health dangers of exhaust.

Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE):

PACE is financing that enables Houston owners of commercial, industrial and residential properties with five or more units to obtain low-cost, long-term loans for water conservation, energy-efficiency, and renewable retrofits.  In exchange for funds provided by a private lender to pay for the improvement, the property owner voluntarily requests that the local government place an assessment secured with a senior lien on the property until the assessment is paid in full.  The benefits of PACE are multi-faceted, leading to a win for all stakeholders.

“We applaud Mayor Annise Parker and Houston for passing landmark environmental legislation that improves our quality of life,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Commercial PACE will make it easier for building owners to reduce energy and water usage and the anti-idling ordinance will clean the air and protect the health of families. It’s a double win.”

“These two ordinances have the potential to make a big impact on air quality and quality of life in Houston,” said Adrian Shelley, Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston. “Reducing idling and conserving energy and water help protect public health, as well as save money. We appreciate Mayor Parker’s significant commitment to improving our environment.”

This ordinance follows numerous other air quality initiatives and programs including:

  • Investing in electric vehicles and hybrids and a fleet sharing program
  • Investigating emissions from metal recyclers
  • Retrofitting over 6 millions square feet of municipal buildings to improve energy efficiency
  • Purchasing 50% green power for city operations
  • Retrofitting 165,000 streetlights to LED technology
  • Expanding bike share and bike facilities across the city

The Chron has a bit more about the anti-idling ordinance.

The anti-idling ordinance prohibits drivers of vehicles with a gross weight of more than 14,000 pounds from idling for more than five minutes when the vehicle is not in motion.

The law, however, exempts vehicles being used by military, emergency or law enforcement personnel, vehicles in the process of being loaded or unloaded, cars sitting in traffic jams, people defrosting their windshields, and various vehicles that must run heat or air conditioning for health and safety reasons.

Transit vehicles carrying passengers can idle for up to 15 minutes to use the heat or air conditioning.

Good. As we know, Houston has longstanding air quality issues, and as federal clean air standards have tightened we have been in greater danger of not being in compliance. There isn’t one single thing that can be done to fix this problem, but there are a lot of little things that can be done to move us in the right direction. This is one of them. Kudos all around for getting it done.

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5 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    It’s a nice thought, but I wish the city would pull the log out of its own eye, first. I notice this specifically exempts police cars, which I see idling even when empty all over town, and not just HPD. I know they run laptop computers and 2 way radios from the squad cars which I presume are always on, but you can’t tell me the cars cannot be fitted with an extra battery specifically for that purpose. Prohibiting cops from letting their cruisers idle might also stop the occasional embarrassing episodes where someone hops in and makes off with the squad car.

    I also wonder about enforcement. Are we going to reassign cops to hang around at truck stops and industrial areas, armed with stopwatches? Where will those cops be drawn from?

  2. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, much of anything with an enforcement provision is likely to continue being complaint driven for the foreseeable future. There just aren’t people to reassign unless you close something down to replenish patrol. The officers I know would likely remind you how expensive the low bid equipment in their cars is and how very heat sensitive it is upon hearing your complaint too.

    As far as enforcement is concerned, such calls for service will not be high priority and any clock will start from the time the officers arrive, further frustrating those who call (I used to live in some apartments where neighbors were always calling on the trucks idling because it was loud, such would be exempt as the refrigeration units in the trucks keep the food from spoiling).

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    @Steve:

    The cabin heat being detrimental to the in-car computer is something I could believe, but that doesn’t explain why I see squad cars idling all year, even in the cooler months. Still, it seems like it would be cheaper to buy computers that are resistant to temperature extremes and save on all the gasoline wasted as those cars sit, many times empty, idling all day. I suspect it has more to do with, I am not paying for the gas, so what do I care? I see that with many drivers of commercial vehicles, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    I have yet to find many government agencies that look at the big picture when engaging in procurement, at least not in a comprehensive manner, so while it would probably be cheaper to buy something like that, as well as other gear of that nature, I openly wonder if it happens all too often. Sitting in my air conditioned offices over the years, I also have to wonder if the main reason isn’t to keep the officers cooler, that bullet proof stuff they wear looking hot no matter what time of year, combined with the electronic features touched on above. I don’t know that they consistently leave their engines idling for hours at a time either, my limited experiences in recent years going to the city courts never showing me officers leaving their cars idling when they were in court.

    But I think you may have a bigger, more valid point in mentioning the all too real phenomenon of employees not caring much about vehicles or equipment. In my military days, many used to treat gear as though it were disposable, “Uncle Sam” all too willing to replace or have it fixed. When we were assigned weapons it was different because we were stuck with whatever weapons unless something very major happened, and I’m sure you can imagine how a failing weapon would not do us much good (I carried everything from the M16, 203, M60, etc, depending on the assignment). Are city, state, or federal employees any less prone to treating items not their own with less indifference?

  5. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Once upon a couple of decades ago, when I worked the counter at a convenience store, officers would leave their cruisers running when they came in to kibbitz and nosh. They suggested to me that they did that so they could respond as quickly as possible when called away. On the few occasions when they did receive emergency calls while in the store, they certainly sprinted out and gunned out of the parking lot, so perhaps that’s one reason they idle their cruisers.

    Like any employees, government employees have to have enforced discipline with regard to care of work equipment. If their job duties include regular maintenance of the equipment and strict guidelines for the use of that equipment, the equipment performs well longer.
    Like any employees, government employees will drift away from the documented processes if there are no consequences for that. And like any large organization, when the control of the purse strings is far from the point at which the expense is incurred, the rigor with which discipline is enforced tends to be arbitrary and capricious.

    It’s nice that Council is trying to do something about externalities such as pollution, but the nature of the tools available to them is going to leave big gaps in coverage of any policy.