New York announces plan to curb tailpipe pollution

If you live in a city—or even a pretty populated town—chances are you’ve been hit in the face by a plume of exhaust from a nearby vehicle. The frequent occurrence of that unsavory situation is why the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently launched an aggressive campaign that targets “smoking” trucks and buses—that is, vehicles that churn out plumes of visible exhaust— that are in violation of state air regulations.

Unlike gaggles of pigeons and kids on roller blades, tailpipe pollution is more than just an annoyance for the casual sidewalk stroller. Diesel engines release sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxide while creating create ground-level ozone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “these emissions are linked to thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, millions of lost work days, and numerous other health impacts every year.” And of course, diesel vehicles emit carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming.

The reasons for cracking down on tailpipe emissions are summed up pretty well by DEC commissioner Pete Grannis in the NYC press release:

“We owe it to ourselves and our children to make our cities livable. That means, at a minimum, the air we breathe should not make us sick. Emissions from smoking and idling trucks and buses are a problem—especially in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution. DEC is committed to dealing with this issue. We intend to take aggressive enforcement actions wherever we find hot spots of smoking and idling trucks and buses.”

The initiative will also target buses and trucks that idle excessively, where “excessive” is defined as anywhere from three to five minutes, depending on the circumstances. Idling, which gets zero miles to the gallon but emits plenty of particulate matter and carbon emissions into the air, has been targeted in other states like California, where first time violators face a fine of up to $300 for idling more than five minutes at a time.

The initiative comes on the heels of a successful city-state crackdown in East Harlem last year that targeted truck and boiler pollution. According to the press release, DEC law-enforcement officers issued 163 tickets for various violations of state air and safety regulations. Officers also issued a total of 43 tickets for excessive truck idling. East Harlem was picked partly because it has elevated asthma rates and heavy truck traffic.

Similar crackdowns have occurred in Newburgh and Albany, with more cities to come, according to an NYC press officer.

Best of all, the plan allows NYC-bound greenies to take environmental crimes into their own hands by calling 311 to help identify smoking and idling hot spots. So keep your eyes peeled, New Yorkers. And for those of you in other cities, write to your state’s environmental department to suggest implementing a similar policy.