Hartford Has The Money To Make School Buses More Eco-friendly. Why Won't They Spend It?
April 5, 2007
By DANIEL D'AMBROSIO, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
A half-million dollars earmarked to cut harmful emissions from Hartford school buses has been sitting unused at the Department of Environmental Protection since 2004 because the city isn’t willing to extend its contract with the bus company, Laidlaw Transit Services.
The DEP is requiring buses retrofitted with pollution-control devices to remain in the city for a minimum of three years, and preferably five years, before releasing the $534,000 available for the devices. That would require an extension of the contract with Naperville, Ill.-based Laidlaw, which runs out next year.
“We wouldn’t want to invest a half-million dollars and find out Laidlaw, or whatever operator, has sent those buses somewhere else,” said Tracy R. Babbidge, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Air Management. “We would lose the benefit of the investment that has been our focus for all these projects.”
Hartford Chief Operating Officer Lee Erdmann said last week that both the city and the Board of Education “had some issues” with Laidlaw, which has provided bus service to the city’s schoolchildren for a decade. He said Mayor Eddie Perez has made it clear he doesn’t want to extend the contract without a bidding process.
Erdmann was not able to specify exactly what the issues are with Laidlaw, but in 2005, Perez was at odds with the company over its failure to pay its drivers what the city considered to be a living wage.
Perez conceded the company was under no obligation to comply with the city’s living wage ordinance, but said it would be the “right thing to do.”
The money for retrofitting the buses comes from a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal against Virginia Electric Power Co., now known as Dominion.
The Environmental Protection Agency charged the company with violating the Clean Air Act by making major modifications at a coal-burning power plant in West Virginia without taking steps to limit harmful emissions. Air quality in Connecticut and other states in the Northeast was affected.
Blumenthal reached a settlement with the company in April 2003 for $1.1 million, which was divided equally between Hartford and Bridgeport. Bridgeport has moved ahead with retrofitting their buses, announcing in February that 111 buses contracted from Laidlaw would be equipped with the pollution control devices by August, in time for the beginning of the school year.
Bridgeport mayor John M. Fabrizi said Bridgeport’s children would “breathe a little easier thanks to this funding.”
Diesel exhaust has been classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the EPA, with more than 40 known cancer-causing agents in the particulates it spews out.
Dr. Mark Mitchell, of the nonprofit Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, has been critical of the city for holding up the retrofitting of Hartford’s school buses.
Mitchell met with Erdmann to suggest a number of ways of moving forward, including putting the bus contract immediately out to bid. Erdmann shared Mitchell’s suggestions with Babbidge, but Babbidge said it was not the DEP’s role to get involved in a contract dispute between the city and Laidlaw.
“We are happy and excited about providing this money to improve the air quality when the situation allows for the settlement money to be used,” said DEP spokesman Dennis Schain