The Clean Air Act and Anti-Idling Regulations

November 3, 2010

School_Bus.JPGThe United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), along with five states in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island), promulgated anti-idling regulations that apply to all motor vehicles.  The intent of this regulation is to reduce particulate and sulfur dioxide emissions from diesel-powered vehicles.  USEPA and state regulatory authorities have established a time limit that a vehicle can idle without violating the law (approximately 5 minutes or less).  Connecticut and Massachusetts have State Implementation Plans that are generally the same as USEPA regulations and are enforced by state and local agencies (including police, health officials, and other local authorities).  Recent trends in enforcement actions related to air quality in Massachusetts suggest that USEPA inspectors and resources are becoming more active with regard to these anti-idling regulations.  


The USEPA has recently taken enforcement action against several companies in Connecticut and Massachusetts for violations of the anti-idling regulations in those states, and has issued multiple fines to transportation companies that have ranged from $60,000 to $650,000.  An example of the highest penalty amount includes a bus transportation company that was found liable in U.S. District Court in Boston, Massachusetts for 234 separate idling violations.  The company elected to pay the civil penalty of $650,000 plus their own expenses (e.g., attorney fees) to avoid a long and drawn out court case.


The anti-idling regulations generally recognize that there are times when idling is unavoidable.  Three specific exemptions from the regulations include:

  1. When an engine is being repaired and operating the engine is necessary for the repair
  2. When a vehicle is making deliveries and associated power is necessary, and
  3. When the engine is used to provide power to another device. 


Steps that can be taken to reduce idling time, emissions from diesel-powered vehicles, and ultimately operating costs include:

  • notifying personnel that your company is implementing an idling policy that requires vehicle operators to be aware of and minimize excessive idling (i.e., longer than 5 minutes)
  • purchasing electric starting aids such as block heaters which help warm the engine to avoid starting difficulties and reduce idling time during engine warm-up
  • using ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel for on-road vehicles
  • installing advanced pollution control equipment such as particulate matter filters that can reduce particulate matter emissions from existing trucks and off-road vehicles (e.g., loaders) by more than 90 percent, and/or
  • using renewable fuel (e.g., Biodiesel) produced from agricultural resources such as vegetable oils that can be blended with ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel to provide a renewable alternative fuel option to conventional diesel fuel.


The above list is not meant to be all-inclusive but more to provide some ideas and examples of what other transportation companies are doing to manage excessive idling and emissions from diesel-powered vehicles.


Jarod P. Yoder, P.G., L.S.P.