Haskell: Police should have power to enforce car idling laws

Will Haskell

Will Haskell

Staff / Hearst Connecticut Media

I spend a lot of time debating, amending and passing legislation in Hartford. I’m proud of that work, and especially proud of bills that address the existential crisis posed by climate change. But all that effort can feel pointless when the laws we pass aren’t properly enforced.

There’s no better example than the issue of idling. Connecticut statutes prohibit the idling of vehicles for more than three minutes, barring extreme weather. This is an important regulation, as more than a third of carbon emissions in Connecticut come from transportation outputs like vehicle exhaust. As you may know, studies have linked pollution from vehicles to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma, and allergies.

The carbon emissions associated with idling account for roughly 1.6 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions nationwide. That means that if the United States could cut idling time in half, we would keep between 7 and 26 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year.

Here’s the problem; Connecticut’s law gave enforcement power to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). More specifically, just six air inspectors are responsible for enforcing the idling statute across the entire state. I know some of the folks at DEEP, and they are exceptionally knowledgeable and hardworking. But they cannot possibly be expected to monitor the 1.4 million cars in school pick-up lines and grocery store parking lots in Connecticut’s 169 towns.

That’s why I believe we ought to give the enforcement power to local police departments, which already operate in our community. Earlier this month, I addressed a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the Environment Committee requesting they consider legislation to make this small change and add real meaning to Connecticut’s idling prohibition. In my view, a portion of the generated revenue should be kept by the municipality that enforces the law.

I’m thrilled that DEEP is supportive of the idea, and most importantly, I’m honored to have student partners in advancing this reform. After watching cars idle in their school parking lot, students from New Canaan brought this issue to my attention and collaborated with me every step of the way. If the bill receives a public hearing, I’m sure they will continue to make their voices heard.

We need real action to save our planet, and frankly, we needed it yesterday. The laws we pass in Hartford aren’t worth the paper they are printed on unless we give communities the tools they need to enforce them. I’m thankful the students brought this problem to my attention, and I’ll continue to fight for legislation that will protect our natural environment.