Bill to allow idling in Texas advances

| 4/5/2005

A Texas House panel has approved a bill that would allow truckers for the next two years to idle their rigs for government-mandated rest periods.

The House Environmental Regulation Committee voted 7-0 March 29 in favor of a bill that would prohibit and limit adoption or enforcement of rules that ban trucks and other vehicles from idling when necessary to power a heater or air conditioner while a driver is using the vehicle’s sleeper berth for a mandated rest period.

The bill – HB1540 – now makes a stop in the House Calendars Committee on its way to the full House.

If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, the law would override a recent Texas Commission on Environmental Quality ruling permitting cities to opt into a rule that would outlaw any idling for more than five minutes for any reason in a truck.

“Federal and state law requires 18-wheelers to pull over and rest. It would be putting them in a very bad predicament to tell them they must meet federal and state laws on the number of hours they can drive without resting but then not allow them to take that rest without an air conditioning running, which would usually be the case in Texas, and on rare occasions, the heater running,” Dennis Bonnen, the environmental panel’s chairman, said during a recent hearing on his bill. “That’s why idling would be necessary to work with them on that.”

Current state law prohibits idling for longer than five minutes from April 1 to Oct. 31 in Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and Waller counties.

Bonnen’s bill would not change that.

An amendment offered by Bonnen, R-Angleton, and approved by the panel would add a two-year sunset to the measure to correspond with stringent diesel emission reductions slated to start in September of 2007.

Despite Bonnen’s call to sunset the bill in two years, he said the issue is still important “because we must ensure truckers are able to make their mandatory rest required by federal and state law.”

He went on to say the bill “may also bridge the time until new technologies to provide heat and cooling without idling are more readily available.”

Two days after the panel’s favorable decision on idling, a contractor’s idling semi was identified as the possible cause of a refinery blast March 23 in Texas City, TX.

According to The Associated Press, the truck may have sucked in a hydrocarbon liquid and vapor cloud, sparking a fiery explosion that killed 15 and injured more than 100 at British Petroleum’s Texas facility.

Investigators are in the process of recovering the truck engine to determine whether it was an ignition source for the liquid and vapor release from a nearby vent.

“There are multiple possible sources of ignition in an operating refinery unit, and we have made no determination about the ignition source at this time,” Bill Hoyle, manager of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, told The AP.