School Bus Fleets Agree To Reduce Urban Air Pollution

State Attorney General Spitzer today announced agreements with four school bus fleets that will help reduce pollution from idling school buses and improve air quality around New York City's neighborhoods. The settling companies are together responsible for transporting more than half of the students for whom the New York City Department of Education arranges bus transportation.

Spitzer, joined by State Senator David Paterson, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, New York City Councilman Bill Perkins, and community advocates, said the action is designed to help combat an epidemic of childhood asthma, respiratory conditions and other health problems.

"The safety of our children is paramount. School bus companies provide an invaluable service by transporting students safely to and from schools; however, when buses idle their engines, they expose kids, bus drivers, school personnel and City residents to unnecessary diesel exhaust that endangers their health," Spitzer said. "We're pleased to have crafted a settlement that will dramatically reduce air pollution from bus idling in New York City, and that will serve as a model for other school bus fleets."

The Attorney General cited a May 2003 report by the National Center for Health Statistics that reported 26.7 million Americans suffer from asthma -- a chronic inflammatory lung disease. In 2000, children in New York City were almost twice as likely to be hospitalized for asthma as children in the United States as a whole. Minority and inner city populations are three times more likely to be affected than any other community.

"I want to thank the Attorney General and his staff for the work they have done to improve the quality of air for our students and for all of the children of the City. I'd also like to commend Senator Patterson, Councilman Perkins, and the other community advocates who helped in this effort. At DOE, we are diligently working with our busing contractors and other state and federal agencies to introduce new technologies, such as special filters and new fuels, which further reduce harmful diesel pollutants and assist in the effort to clean the air and improve the health and safety of our children" said Chancellor Klein.

"On behalf of New York's school children and their families, I want to thank the Attorney General for his leadership on this issue. This is an important victory for those of us who are committed to making the air quality safer for our children. I also want to commend the four bus companies involved in this settlement for agreeing to retrofit their buses to reduce dangerous diesel emissions. Up until now the companies that transport our kids have been reluctant to do this. That is why I'm working in the Senate, along with Assemblyman Peter Rivera, to pass legislation that would require school bus companies to install diesel exhaust filters. Together with the tireless efforts of our Attorney General I am confident we can reduce the health risks that our children face," said Senator Paterson.Councilman Perkins, said: "This settlement is a breath of fresh air for the children of my district who historically suffer from a high rate of asthma and other respiratory illnesses."

An investigation by Spitzer's office found that the four school bus fleets – Atlantic Express, Pioneer Bus Company, Consolidated Bus Company, and Logan Bus Company – repeatedly violated state and city idling laws that limit the amount of time vehicles may idle when not in traffic. Often, buses idled for long periods in front of schools and when the children were nearby waiting or loading and unloading. These four companies operate over 60 percent of the approximately 6,000 school buses that are contracted by the DOE.

Emissions from diesel engines in trucks and buses contain pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and microscopic particles of soot that can lodge deep in a person's lungs. These pollutants have been linked to cancer, respiratory diseases, such as asthma, and other serious health conditions.

Under the agreements, the four bus companies will:

  • implement a "no idling" policy that prohibits idling for more than one minute within one block of a school (unless idling is required to operate an auxiliary loading or unloading function, such as wheelchair lifts or necessary safety equipment) or for more than 3 minutes at any other location;
  • implement an operations plan at bus depots to eliminate excessive idling;
  • implement a monitoring program for three years and report all compliance activities and findings to the Attorney General's Office on an annual basis; and
  • fund an environmental benefit project valued at $47,000 for tree planting near New York City public schools.

Spitzer's office estimated that idling by the four school bus companies resulted in annual emissions of approximately 1.3 tons of particulate matter, 60 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 20 tons of carbon monoxide in the metropolitan region. The AG's office also noted a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the University of California at Berkeley, "No Breathing in the Aisles," which found that levels of diesel pollution are up to eight times greater inside school buses than the average diesel exhaust levels in outside air.

Public health, neighborhood and environmental activists from New York City praised the agreements. Spitzer thanked the staff of PS 125, where the announcement of the agreements was made, for their efforts to address the health and safety of school children.

"Although they carry the most precious and the most vulnerable members of our society, yellow school buses remain some of the most toxic vehicles on the road today. There is no reason for these buses to be idling outside schools or in parking lots, exposing children, drivers, and community residents to toxic diesel exhaust. The agreement between the Attorney General's office and New York City school bus companies is an important step towards cleaning up dirty school buses and lessening their impact on children's health," said Peggy Shepard, Executive Director of WeACT.

In addition, three of the four companies, Atlantic Express, Pioneer, and Consolidated, agreed to cooperate with the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to install diesel exhaust filters on their buses to reduce harmful emissions. In 2001, NYPA announced that it would provide $6 million to retrofit 1,000 New York City school buses with exhaust filters, but to date no retrofit projects have been completed. The exhaust filters, when combined with the use of ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel (which will also be paid for by NYPA), will reduce emissions from the school buses by up to 90 percent.

To counter the harm caused by diesel exhaust, New York State law provides that trucks and buses with diesel engines may not idle for more than five consecutive minutes, except when powering an auxiliary function (such as loading or unloading cargo or mixing concrete) required for maintenance, or when performing emergency services. Under New York City law, trucks and buses that are not legally authorized emergency vehicles may not idle for more than three consecutive minutes, except when powering a loading, unloading or processing device.

The matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Lisa Feiner and Lemuel M. Srolovic, Policy Analyst Thomas Congdon, Environmental Scientist Rona Baruch and Investigator Sal Ventola.

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