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Publish Date: 3/18/2005

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Trucks sit in the parking lot on Turner Boulevard in Del Camino on Saturday morning. The EPA estimates that idling truck engines burn more than 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year.Times-Call/Lewis Geyer

Idle Threats
EPA tries to lower emissions by getting engines turned off


DEL CAMINO — The familiar chugging sound of idling big rigs fills the air at this truck stop as drivers fuel up with diesel or take a federally required rest break.

Truckers as a rule keep their engines running much of the time, even when parked or delivering their cargo. The engines power heaters, radios, televisions and all manner of modern conveniences. And since they’re generally harder to start than standard gasoline engines in cold weather, diesels are generally kept running.

But those idling engines burn more than 1 billion gallons of diesel fuel a year, pumping out 11 million tons of carbon dioxide, 200,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen, and 5,000 tons of asthma-contributing particulates, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

And in the five seconds it will take you to read this sentence, about 200 gallons of diesel fuel will be wasted by unnecessarily idling trucks and locomotives nationwide, the EPA says.

Now, the EPA is launching a new effort to persuade trucking companies and drivers to reduce idling. The effort is a partnership between the EPA, state governments and the trucking industry aimed at saving fuel and making the air cleaner for everyone. The Front Range has long struggled with air pollution from vehicles, and the EPA sees the “SmartWay” project as a win for both the environment and for trucking companies pinched by rising diesel prices.

“Obviously we want to be environmentally friendly, and we want to be doing our part, but the bottom line is money. If you run that idle time up, that’s fuel,” said Craig Rosenthal, vice president for McLane Western, a grocery distribution company on Longmont’s eastern edge.

Rosenthal said his company has long identified idling as a danger to both the environment and the bottom line, and has an aggressive program to reduce idling. The trucks’ computers record how long they idle, and that information is reported back to headquarters. McLane has about 60 trucks, and delivers to convenience stores and big-box retailers across a five-state area.

Under Colorado law, there’s no requirement that truckers shut off their engines when stationary. And according to federal and state officials, only Denver has rules governing the idling of vehicles.

New York state, by contrast, bans diesel trucks and buses from idling more than five minutes. About a dozen other states, mostly on the East Coast, have similar regulations but permit exemptions during cold weather and for emergency vehicles. California also has exemptions during strikes or “acts of God.”

“There isn’t anything at the state level,” said Chris Dann, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

He said the CDPHE has the power to fine violators who cause a public nuisance but said that is “virtually impossible to pursue.”

Local governments are free to create their own idling regulations. Denver prohibits idling of any vehicle of more than 10 minutes in an hour, with exemptions during cold weather and for emergency vehicles. Longmont has no such rules.

As part of the plan, the EPA is also giving out grants to help equip truck stops with electrical umbilical cords allowing truckers to plug in heaters and other electronics without using the diesel engine.

Web link

For information about diesel idling and a counter showing how much is fuel is burned by “unnecessary” idling, see www.epa.gov/smartway/idling.htm

Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at thughes@times-call.com. n

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