Who knew that New Haven drivers could be ticketed if their engines are unnecessarily idling for more than three minutes!
But they rarely if ever are. That may change, if the city’s environmental watchdog agency has its way.
The Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) took the first, albeit slow and idling steps, to draft language to recommend to the city in order to create a local ordinance to implement a state environmental code that allows the ticketing.
Members took that step at last week’s monthly EAC meeting.
For every ten minutes you let your engine idle, you are pouring one pound of harmful greenhouse-gas-producing carbon dioxide into city’s already not-so healthy-to-breathe air, advocates say.
The EAC initiative, along with others such as an evolving plastic bag ban, are emerging out of the group’s efforts to accelerate implementation of the city’s Climate and Sustainability Framework, which the Board of Alders passed this February. The goal of the framework is to reduce New Haven’s carbon emissions 55 percent by 2030.
At the meeting at City Hall last Wednesday night, EAC member Chris Schweitzer introduced the results of volunteer research on the subject, which included trying to pow-wow with officials in Norwalk, the only municipality in the state with such a local state-implementing ordinance. He said Norwalk officials had not gotten back to him.
However, Schweitzer reported that Transportation, Traffic & Parking (TTP) Director Doug Hausladen was good-to-go with this language:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, The New Haven Board of Aldermen, based on the above information [CT Section 22a-174-18, Connecticut state regulations for the abatement of air pollution] and by virtue of this resolution, hereby expresses its full support for the proposed anti-idling ordinance which includes:
• Enforcement of the ordinance with ticketing and a fine;
• Enforcement of ordinance from already existing departments, including Traffic transportation and Parking and the Police Department
• Establishment of an appropriate education program and resources for enforcers;
• Guidelines for implementation of the ordinance which includes the specific exceptions to the ordinance and issuance of warnings;
• Creation of a public education campaign, which could include signage, video PSAs and posters, etc to inform public of ordinance and the benefits of reducing idling.
Not quite so fast, said mayoral Legislative Assistant and Policy Analyst Esther Armmand.
“What did the police say?” she queried Schweitzer. Given the manpower shortage and overtime spending, are the police ready, willing, and able to do the enforcement?
Schweitzer said he had gotten the thumbs up from TTP, whose staff would also likely be involved with future enforcement.
“Unless you have something specific on enforcement, the alders won’t pass it,” Armmand advised. “You need a fiscal impact statement. Without that, it’s soft.”
“I suspect the police will not view this as a high priority,” said EAC Vice Chair Kevin McCarthy. “We may have more luck with TTP.”
“You need to tease things out before you move to legislation,” given the precarious state of city finances, Armmand said.
“I take Esther’s point,” said City Engineer Giovanni Zinn, a regular attendee at EAC meetings. He also called attention to the potentially plus side of such an ordinance if it can be tweaked so it either doesn’t cost money on balance — or perhaps even produces new city dollars through fines. “The revenue would go to the city,” unlike with traffic tickets, Zinn noted. The idling “is already illegal; it’s a question of enforcement.”
Armmand added another angle: “The mayor and the alders don’t want to be surprised. Since the EAC is working on behalf of the city, I would advise a conversation” witih city departments before introducing a resolution.
“I’ve heard from the administration that they like this [the proposed ordinance]. We need to find a way to the next step,” counseled EAC chair Laura Cahn.
“Here’s some inside baseball,” said Zinn. He suggested that in the weeks to come there could be “internal conversations” that would clarify the enforcement and fiscal impact issues so that the process could be accelerated.
Hearing that, Cahn ruled that the commission would put off a vote for a month.
The state ordinance spotlights school buses as violators. It also lists exemptions that cover police and other emergency vehicles, where the turning off of engines, Zinn said, could result in the malfunction of other necessary equipment.
Plastic Bag Ban Takes The Next Step
A little further ahead in the process of EAC initiatives becoming city law is a plastic bag ban. At the EAC’s October meeting Armand carried the mayor’s hearty endorsement of goal of a proposed city ordinance to reduce the common use of plastic single-use carry-out bags. The non-biodegradable bags pollute the ocean and kill whales and dolphins, jam recycling machinery, deplete the ozone layer when incinerated, and clog landfills.
The sustainability framework calls for the city to tax plastic bags and straws and water bottles in keeping with zero waste design guidelines for urban centers. Armmand had previously said it is unclear yet if the mayor wants to emphasize fines, participation of local businesses, or public education, or all three in the language of the ordinance percolating at the EAC.
At Wednesday night’s meeting she advanced the process by submitting a “draft comprehensive statement for a model plastic bag ordinance”:
The City of New Haven Ordinance Relating to the proposed initiative on disposable plastic bags at check-out that will bring community together to increase sustainable materials management by reducing plastic bag use at retail check-out in order to reduce waste management and mitigation, protect our environment, beautify our parks and neighborhoods, create jobs and cut costs while increasing public information on recycling, reuse, and source reduction.
There was no specific action taken by the committee on Armmand’s draft, just a distribution to keep members updated as she advances the ordinance.
Armmand said she thinks the work is moving apace so that a draft will be submitted to the alders by the end of the year.