A very harsh civic lesson: HB 2081, the trucker’s anti-idling bill

The Republicans have it figured out.  They understand that without a majority, with a simple tie in the legislation, they can prevail.  They do it by banding together behind a single ideology.  So the Democrats are now dividing to conquer, making strange bedfellows and alliances like Oregon Environmental Council and the Oregon Trucking Association, not realizing that while they may be scraping tiny victories off the floor, they are losing one giant ideological war. Dems fight for health care, Republicans fight for small government, Dems fight for services to the poor, Republicans fight for small government, Dems fight for the environment, reproductive rights, food for the hungry, service for the elderly, education, bike paths, you name it; and, the Republicans fight for small government.

Let me explain.

My trip to Salem to testify on the anti-idling bill yesterday was a harsh civic lesson. It seemed clear this bill was not up for much “discussion” in terms of the cool reception we received, on the grounds that Oregon Environmental Council was an early sign on to the bill. It is humbling to witness the lopsided process.  After the Senate committee sat through the Oregon Trucking Association rep’s presentation of “his bill,” all but two Senators, including the chair of the committee, got up and left as Lisa Arkin, executive director of the Oregon Toxics Alliance began to speak. She presented her case for HB 2081-9, that would return the bill to its original form and removing only the local preemption section.  Chair Lee Beyer, returning after her testimony, did call a recess and push it to resume “next week.” I think that can be seen as positive move and allows other local governments to weigh in, and gives us some more time.

The problem is not so much in the ambiguity of the language in terms of idling restrictions -which move in the right direction but are very weak- but in the preemption of local jurisdiction to fill in the gaps to address localized impacts. I continue to ask that the preemptions be removed. Let me explain my case study (real story) which would fall into that gap:

Last year, four days a week, I walked my daughter three blocks to Friendly House Community Center which, in a small daylight basement room, operates a phenomenal Head Start preschool program for three and four-year olds. Across the street from the entrance to the pre-school is a neighborhood convenience store.  On many occasions, either in the morning dropping off, or midday pick-up, I encountered idling trucks parked directly in front of the door of the preschool, while their drivers ran into the convenience store to deliver products.  This small residential street is not well suited to these trucks.  I started to become more concerned about this issue when I would see on occasion 1-2 trucks concurrently, and finally on May 20, 2010 I wrote to our city commissioners when I encountered four idling trucks parked at the same time as I, and the other parents, picked up our children from the pre-school.  The response that the city sent me was clear: there are no city laws to preclude this; but we should continue to look at the unique situation proposed and develop guidelines that address the cumulative issue of many trucks at once in an area unsuitable for this kind of traffic.
HB 2081 won’t address this problem, and it leaves me and the school with no recourse to address it:

1. As a pre-school, this (and all daycare centers presumably) is not included in the language that addresses schools in Section 5 (9) which states vehicles -as long as they do not meet the many exemptions allowed – may not idle when “parked on or adjacent to a public or private educational institution offering education in all or part of kindergarten through grade 12.”

2.  The trucks I witnessed regularly were making relatively quick deliveries to this small convenience store, rarely parked more than 15-20 minutes, so they again would be exempt as stated in Section 5 (11) since vehicles were allowed” a maximum of 30 minutes while waiting to load or unload the commercial vehicle or while actually loading or unloading the commercial vehicle during a single loading or unloading event.

3.  These vehicles often would also be exempt on the grounds of Section 4 (2b) on the grounds that since they were most likely to be refrigerated units delivering perishable goods which would make it necessary to “operate a cargo temperature control unit to maintain cargo.”

4. Nothing in the bill precludes or limits the number of idling trucks that can sit on one small residential street adjacent to a preschool entrance, so the fact that four would deliver at the same time is not addressed.

5. Finally, my recourse, to address this issue with the city, which, I did, and representatives of which  acknowledged there is no law to preclude this commercial activity, but it would be reasonable to address the unique circumstances and the cumulative impact on the health and well being of the children at the school. Section 6 (1&2) amendments specifically precludes me from continuing this discussion, as the city will no longer have any authority to address it, or enact solutions for which might be as simple as signage to alert truck drivers that they are in a high impact zone.

In my testimony, I readily admitted that I was realistic enough not to expect a first ever statewide anti-idling bill to address all the adverse localized impacts on public health unique to individual communities and neighborhoods. But I do expect the state assembly to not strip me of my rights to address these  localized impacts, especially when what they offer is void of any protection to Oregonians exposed to the nuisance and adverse health impacts associated with breathing diesel exhaust. But the current Democratic strategy, with an equal share of the power in Salem, is to sell out the democratic process through ignoring citizen testimony and granting preemptions to local authorities, all for the sake of winning what ever scraps are left from the banquet table of the gloating Republicans who bask in the knowledge that their ideology is winning in every battle, because it is the one and only thing they work united on achieving.


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