Don’t be an idler


To the Editor:

I am an environmental wacko. It’s been two weeks since I hugged a tree. I vote almost straight Democratic, recycle, believe global warming is real and caused by humans, support the windmills in Nantucket Sound, and have delusions that I can do something to help the planet.

Obviously, I need help. My latest delusion is that I might be able to convince some people to not leave their cars idling while “just running into the store for a minute.” Almost every day (especially since the weather has gotten cooler), I have visions of (usually) the largest vehicle in a parking lot just sitting empty with it’s poisonous exhaust contaminating the whole parking lot. What are they thinking, I wonder ? They like wasting money? They like polluted air? They hate the earth? Clueless? Sissies that can’t handle getting into a less than 75-degree vehicle?

So I started asking. I got lots of blank stares. “None of your business”, “my father died last month,” “What’s it to ya?”

My girlfriend for some reason has better responses. After some of these close encounters, I was still with-it enough to seek help. So I went to the police, armed with a copy of Mass. General Law, Chapter 90, section 16 a. It states,”No person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit the unnecessary operation of the engine of a motor vehicle while said vehicle is stopped for a foreseeable period of time in excess of five minutes …”

Please help, I said, enforce this law, educate the people, save the planet…They were sympathetic but powerless to enforce this law because they would have to observe this criminal act for the full five minutes. The Tisbury and West Tisbury police chiefs both suggested I call the dispatch (508-693-1212) and report a crime in progress. I have to say that even in my desperate condition, I am a little reluctant to do that.

Then I discovered another law. This one being Mass. General Law, Chapter 90, Section 13. It regulates parking, among other things. It states, “No person having control or charge of a motor vehicle…shall allow such vehicle to stand in any way and remain unattended without stopping the engine of said vehicle…” Since this one was so clear and simple, I just asked the parking enforcement officer (aka the meter maid ) to simply issue a parking ticket when she saw an unoccupied vehicle with the engine running.

But simple to me was not so simple for the bureaucracy. It seems she can only issue parking tickets for the 14 things in her notebook. Polluting the air, wasting fuel, and causing irreparable damage to the planet is not on the list. Who makes the list, I inquired, hoping it was not oil company executives. “Perhaps the selectmen,” she said.

After a few phone calls and a very nice discussion with the selectmen’s secretary, it seems possible that the selectmen do have this power, but it may have to come to a vote at town meeting. I am not sure of this, as the selectman I would like to talk to has not yet returned my call. Amazingly, it seems possible that we the people actually have the power to stop the senseless waste of at least a small portion of our natural resources and keep the air that we breathe a bit cleaner.

While it may seem like a small thing, it is estimated that Americans waste 3.8 million gallons of fuel a year while idling their vehicles unnecessarily. That number does not include being stuck in traffic. Regardless of the action or the inaction of the authorities, I appeal to you, the general public, for help.

Turn your engine off when you park, or if you are going to be stopped for a while (like at the drawbridge). Confront people who don’t (in a nice way of course). Call the police if you see an environmental crime in progress, talk to your local police department and elected officials about enforcing existing environmental laws, and be more conscious of what you waste. It is after all, the air we all breathe.

Don Keller

Vineyard Haven