Greene: Cold Car Or Warm Planet

Feb 25, 2019

With the senate passing a bill (S84) exempting almost a quarter of Vermont vehicles from emissions testing, we have to tighten up other sources of emissions – including one that might be less painful fix. We have a no-idling law in Vermont designed to prevent those emissions from being released into our already overburdened atmosphere. But it turns out the law is pretty forgiving.

It’s legal to idle a car for five minutes every hour, and to maintain the comfort of passengers or safety elements like a defroster. If your rig uses refrigeration or hydraulics, it’s also legal to idle. But a friend got off work the other day at a local ski resort and reported seeing scores of cars idling empty in the parking lot – leading me to wonder what more could be done to remind people of the harm that idling causes.

Driver’s ed courses are already required to include material about the environmental, economic and health damage caused by idling, so young people get this. But the rest of us need to catch up. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey all have laws like ours that prohibit idling, but not so in New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island - so it may be a new concept to some winter visitors.

Here, transportation makes up 43% of our greenhouse gas emissions. That’s fully 15 percentage points higher than the national average. And the VT Dept of Environmental Conservation estimates that if every vehicle in Vermont reduced idling by just one minute per day, over the course of a year we’d save more than1 million gallons of fuel, $2 million in fuel costs, and fewer CO2 emissions by more than 10,000 metric tons.

In comparison, reliable estimates conclude that Vermonters idle parked vehicles for 9.6 million hours a year, emitting about 36,500 metric tons of CO2. So if we just cut a couple minutes of idle time we would reduce emissions by almost a third – enough to take the sting out of getting into a cold car.

Maybe signs posted in parking lots would help – or bumper stickers that say something like: For a cooler planet, don’t warm up the car!