Idling Trucks: The LADWP’s “Green” Problem


The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power’s main public relations initiative — when it’s not justifying secret expenditures from a union slush fund — is to convince the world that it’s a “green” company focused on renewable energy sources.

That image plays slightly better than “mega-polluting utility contributing daily to global warming.”

One of the ways the coal-burning, fossil-fuel-using LADWP approaches this daunting task is to set up tables and booths at public gatherings, where they hand out low-flow shower-heads and cute little sand timers to remind folks to bathe quickly. Last week, we attended one such event, a screening of the powerful climate change documentary “Ice on Fire,” produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. The LADWP had one of their tables in the back of the theater, and the nice man dispensing freebies told everyone who stopped by how proud LADWP was to be sponsoring such an important film. For a brief, illusory moment, the LADWP seemed like a positively green organization committed to an environmentally conscious future.

The next morning, less than 24 hours after the climate change documentary, an LADWP service truck parked on our street. The hard-hatted driver turned on a yellow revolving light mounted to the roof of his pickup-style vehicle, locked the doors, and walked away.

With the engine running.

With the fossil-fuel-burning, V-8 engine running.

For close to 20 minutes. Three driveways down from the Gardner Street Elementary School, where hundreds of children are allegedly being prepared for their future.

When we walked across the street and asked the driver to turn off his engine for the sake of air quality, our over-heated planet, and the general health of all living creatures, the LADWP worker informed us he was just doing his job, and the engine had to run so that the battery for his revolving light and communications radio wouldn’t run low — and, also, parenthetically and subordinate to all the important doing-your job stuff, it was 90-degrees outside, and keeping the motor running ensured he’d have an icy cabin awaiting him, since the air conditioner was also running continuously in his absence. That there might be some correlation between the sweltering afternoon heat and the heat fumes radiating off his truck did not occur to him.

Surely, we proposed, this couldn’t be official company policy. No green company — or one who makes a big show of their greenness — would allow their fleet of gasoline-powered, low-mileage trucks to befoul the communities they’re meant to serve.

So we checked with LADWP. A nice lady named Sophia (from Team 34) in Customer Service consulted her supervisor and informed us of official LADWP Policy: there is none.

The LADWP does not require drivers to turn off their carbon-spewing engines when they’re parked. This is not part of LADWP’s training.

So, hypothetically, according to LADWP policy (or lack thereof) once a technician turns on his truck at the start of an 8-hour shift, LADWP has no problem if it never gets turned off, even when parked.

We’re not too good at math, but multiplying the number of trucks in LADWP’s fleet (they have 247 total vehicles, many of them V-8s) by 8 hours, and then again by 5 days in a week, you find that proudly green LADWP could spend close to 10,000 hours a week helping to smog up Los Angeles and bake the planet. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s formulation, they’ve reached mastery of the polluting arts.

None of this sounded right. So we reached out to the LADWP’s media relations team for an official explanation. As of publication, we’re still waiting for a response.

Seven other United States have anti-idling laws on the books, and LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz recently introduced a motion to implement a similar law here. Meanwhile, the City — like the LADWP — has no official policy on this harmful, wasteful, utterly unnecessary habit. (It does, however, wish to criminalize the act of sleeping overnight in your car with the engine off.)

The tone of “Ice on Fire” is deeply concerned yet enthusiastically hopeful. The film highlights a panoply of exciting new technologies to sequester carbon and save the planet, and we left the Wiltern Theater feeling like humanity has a chance to redeem itself.

But if our City’s chief proponent of green power isn’t willing to take helpful, common sense measures, it’s going to take a lot more than kelp and bionic leave to rescue us.

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1 Response

  1. Charmaine says:

    Amen! Great post, much-needed reminder not only to LADWP but to ALL vehicle owners.