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NYC mayor restricts idling, but his SUVs do it

NYC Mayor American Idle
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg exits his vehicle to attend an event in New York on Tuesday. The mayor's SUV idled on the street as he spoke at the event.Seth Wenig / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pushed an ambitious green agenda and cast himself as a national environmental leader, routinely runs afoul of his own anti-pollution policy by letting his official vehicles idle, sometimes for more than an hour.

In spot checks over the past week, The Associated Press timed idling periods for the mayor's city-owned sport utility vehicles, which shuttle him around New York or trail him when he takes the subway. The parked vehicles idled at least eight times for periods of 10 minutes to over an hour.

The mayor earlier this year strengthened the city's anti-idling law — which allows three minutes of idling — into what advocates call the country's toughest and promised a public-awareness campaign. The bill limited idling to one minute in school zones and mandated education for taxi driver applicants.

"Those of us that want to leave a good life for our children, and want to have clean air for us to breathe, and clean water to drink ... it's incumbent on us to really carry the fight," he said at the signing.

Emergency vehicles exempt
Bloomberg's SUVs are exempt from the law because they are considered emergency vehicles, but the city is trying to reduce idling, spokesman Stu Loeser said Wednesday.

The SUVs have devices enabling heat and radios to run without the engine and are supposed to be parked in the shade when possible, Loeser said. Nearly every time the AP noted the idling vehicles, temperatures were mild and they were parked in the shade.

"We're doing our best," Loeser said.

Bloomberg, who is running for re-election this year, sought to cast himself as a national environmental leader when he tested the waters for a possible presidential run last year.

He floated a plan to charge tolls on all vehicles entering Manhattan's most congested areas to lure more people to mass transit, wants the city's taxi fleet to go hybrid and partnered with former President Bill Clinton to retrofit city buildings to use less energy.

David Pettit, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Southern California air program, said it's troubling when environmental leaders don't live the lifestyle they advocate.

"It doesn't paint a very good picture when you see this kind of thing," he said.

Idling means emissions
An Environmental Defense Fund report this year estimated that idling vehicles produce 130,000 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide each year in the city. Idling vehicles also emit smog-forming nitrogen oxides, soot and carbon monoxide, pollutants associated with a number of health risks, including asthma.

Bloomberg's vehicles run on a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that reduces both emissions and fuel economy. The city's anti-idling law does not make exceptions for alternative fuel vehicles.

The mayor wants to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. A study by his office found the city produced nearly 1 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases emissions in 2005.

Bloomberg caught flak recently when he admitted he had done little to reduce energy use at his Upper East Side mansion, other than turn off unnecessary lights and open windows instead of running air conditioning. He only recently had his roof painted white, a policy he has advocated since 2007.

Other environmental leaders have been criticized for not doing what they ask of citizens. In 2007, Al Gore retrofitted his Nashville home to reduce an average $1,200 monthly electric bill for a 10,000-square-foot-home.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, credited with popularizing gas-guzzling Hummers before entering politics, has made over the two that he owns into more fuel-efficient models.