Students offer Legislature plan to help clean air

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(Host) The Legislature is looking at many ways to fight global warming.

And today students from a Jericho middle school offered a plan that could clean the air and save taxpayers money.

The students want the state to ban the “idling time” for school buses. They say excess idling wastes fuel and is bad for their health.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) The seventh graders from Browns River Middle School lined up as expert witnesses before the House Natural Resources Committee.

Jimmy Lynn Mead told lawmakers that the buses often idle for 10 minutes or more as she and her classmates wait outside for the ride home.

(Mead) “Ten minutes later I enter the door of my assigned bus. And with me comes those hazardous fumes from the idling bus ahead of us. As I go to my seat those fumes are making their way into my 12-year-old lungs.”

(Dillon) Diesel exhaust contains small particles that can cause lung damage and aggravate allergic reactions. But there’s a financial and environmental cost as well.

The students presented a fact sheet that calculated the wasted fuel and money. If each of the 1,800 school buses in Vermont idles for five minutes a day, over the course of a year that uses about 13,500 gallons of fuel. Burning that fuel costs about $73,000 and releases almost 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide.

The kids weren’t worried about getting onto a freezing bus. Adam Martin said they’re Vermont kids and can handle the cold.

(Martin) “The buses don’t need to be warm. We bring coats, and winter clothes, hats, mittens. I don’t think it’s really comfort we need to be worrying about. It’s more of how it affects us, health environment, costs.”

(Dillon) The legislation would ban school bus idling and allows the Natural Resources Agency to set rules for possible exceptions in cold weather.

But Ed Miller, a lobbyist for the Vermont Truck and Bus Association, argued against a statewide ban. He said the idling rules should be set by local school boards.

(Miller) “I think there are circumstances where a local school or local school district might have a better idea of how their buses are presently operated. They may have a policy in effect already.”

(Dillon) But the seventh graders say local restrictions often don’t go far enough. Their school has a policy that allows idling for 15 minutes when the temperature is below 32 degrees. That’s way too much idling, they said.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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