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$1.4 Million Environmental Settlement With MBTA Brings Clean Air and Water Benefits to Boston: Settlement Stems from Bus Idling and Water Pollution Violations

Release Date: 03/10/04
Contact Information: Contact: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office, (617) 918-1008 Contact: Samantha Martin, US Attorney's Office (617-748-3139)

For Immediate Release: March 10, 2004; Release # 04-03-04

BOSTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office announced today that they have reached a $1.4 million enforcement settlement with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) that will bring significant clean air benefits to the Boston area by reducing idling of MBTA buses, reducing pollution from South Shore commuter rail trains, and providing land for a bike path along the Mystic River.

The settlement stems from a federal enforcement action against the MBTA for numerous air and water violations, including excessive idling of dozens of diesel buses in 2002, unpermitted discharges for many years into the Mystic River and other Boston-area rivers, and failure to develop oil spill control plans at multiple Boston-area facilities.

Under the settlement, the MBTA will pay a fine of $328,274 and undertake two environmental projects, including a $1 million project to reduce pollution from commuter trains at South Station and donating a one-acre parcel on the Somerville/Charlestown line so a commuter bike path can be extended to Sullivan Square. In addition, the settlement requires MBTA to prevent future environmental violations by implementing a formal Environmental Management System (EMS) for all of its operations.

The MBTA also agreed to meet a five-minute idling limit for all of its 995 buses immediately except on very cold days. By December 2006, MBTA will meet the limit on very cold days as well. Excessive bus idling is a major health concern because diesel exhaust is a probable carcinogen that can trigger asthma and respiratory illness.

"This settlement will improve air quality for all Boston-area residents, especially for the region's children who are particularly vulnerable to asthma and the ill effects of diesel exhaust in their indoor and outdoor environments," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "By reducing bus idling, running cleaner trains and enhancing bicycling opportunities along the Mystic River, this settlement brings major benefits to adults and children alike in the Boston area."

"This Administration is dedicated to enforcing all environmental laws that protect our land, water and air," said U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan. "Through this settlement, the MBTA is committed to address serious environmental violations caused by the illegal excessive idling of buses and the discharge of wash, cooling and storm water into the Mystic and other Massachusetts rivers. Resolutions of these issues will provide Boston residents, especially children, with enhanced protections to their public health and a cleaner environment."

"Today's settlement will significantly improve the air quality for all the people of Boston," added Tom Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The combined effort of the agencies involved in this case is a laudable example of how different agencies can effectively address difficult environmental challenges."

The EMS provision in today's settlement was developed with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office and Department of Environmental Protection. The Attorney General's Office finalized an enforcement case settlement with MBTA that includes identical EMS provisions and also requires highly contaminated soil at the T's Readville train yard in Dedham to be cleaned up by May, 14 months ahead of schedule. The case was prompted by an inadequate cleanup at the Readville property in the 1990s.

"I commend the EPA for the work it has done to hold the MBTA accountable and put systems in place that will permanently change the way the T approaches environmental issues," said Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly. "The federal and state collaboration has achieved real results for the citizens of Massachusetts who will benefit from a cleaner environment."

The three projects included in today's settlement are:

    • A project valued at $1 million to operate 33 commuter trains at Boston's South Station on lower-polluting low sulfur diesel fuel for at least three years. The cleaner fuel will eliminate about 32 tons of particulate pollution and 429 tons of sulfur dioxide from the Boston area over three years. The project comes six weeks after EPA announced that all commuter trains operating from Boston's North Station will be operated with low sulfur diesel fuel as part of a settlement of an enforcement case with the owners of the Mystic Station power plant in Everett. The combined effect of the North and South Station projects will be to remove about 687 tons of sulfur dioxide and 76 tons of particulate matter from the air around Boston over the next three years.
    • Donating an easement on a one-acre strip of land so an existing Mystic River bike path can be extended to reach the Sullivan Square subway station from Draw 7 Park in Somerville. The easement will provide a critical link in the Boston Bike path network. The deal comes on the heels of the Mystic Station power plant settlement which included funding for a connecting bike path over the Amelia Earhart Dam. MBTA will implement a formal, facility-wide Environmental Management System (EMS). The system will clarify formal procedures and responsibilities for all MBTA staff to ensure that the transit agency complies with environmental regulations in the future and monitors and improves its own environmental performance.
All of the Clean Water Act violations have been corrected by the MBTA.

Additionally, MBTA will immediately limit its idling to five minutes on all but the coldest days (although MBTA may legally idle for more than five minutes while conducting safety circle checks and repairing buses). Massachusetts state regulations prohibit idling a motor vehicle in excess of five minutes, with some exceptions. During inspections of four MBTA yards in 2002, EPA found at least 55 buses idling for more than five minutes. Many of the buses were found to be idling for more than an hour and, in one instance, at the Roxbury yard on Bartlett Street, a bus was seen idling for 2 hours. The inspections are part of a coordinated campaign by EPA, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the City of Boston to enforce the anti-idling regulations.

Diesel exhaust contains fine particles that can cause lung damage and aggravate respiratory conditions, such as asthma and bronchitis. Diesel exhaust is also a probable carcinogen. In New England, diesel engines are the third largest human-made source of fine particles, contributing more than 20 percent of fine particle emissions. Children are more sensitive to air pollution because they have a faster breathing rate than adults. Several MBTA bus yards are concentrated in neighborhoods of Boston with significant asthma problems, including Roxbury, which has an asthma hospitalization rate 178 percent above the state average.

The complaint also alleges six years of discharging wash water and cooling water to the Mystic River from the MBTA's Charlestown Yard and Everett Shops without a permit. Also, for seven years, the MBTA discharged storm water without the required permits or storm water pollution prevention plans. The plans would have helped MBTA facilities prevent rain water from carrying pollution to adjacent rivers, including the Mystic River, Fort Point Channel, Saugus River, Neponset River, Muddy River and Charles River. Stormwater discharges from transportation facilities can carry oil, grease, and metals into storm drains, ultimately compromising the health and quality of the streams and waterways.

Finally, the MBTA failed to develop and implement oil spill prevention and control plans for at least 10 MBTA facilities, in some cases 20 years after they were required by law. While no significant oil spills at MBTA facilities are known, the lack of proper plans increased the chances for a spill and likely would have increased the severity of any spill.

Related Information:
Asthma
Diesel Exhaust
Air Enforcement
Storm Water Topics
Non-Point Source