Filing complaints about idle trucks, illegal dumping and wasted water can help the planet and make some money

Illustrations by Cat Sims for The Washington Post

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Around New York City, dedicated bounty hunters can be found scanning the city’s bustling streets for their targets: idling trucks. spewing climate warming emissions in the atmosphere. In Milwaukee, people who report illegal dumping may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, California residents are encouraged to report forms of water waste, such as overwatering lawns.

In a country where most people are familiar with some version of the phrase“If You See Something, Say Something” It’s not really surprising that local governments across the country have turned to the public to help enforce environmental laws.

“There is widespread public support for enforcing environmental laws, and yet there are very few resources dedicated to getting the job done,” said Steve Fleischli, lead attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The government cannot be everywhere all the time. They can’t have eyes on the ground everywhere all the time, so they need help and this is one way the public can participate.”

Reporting violations is an important way that citizens can do their part to ensure that “our laws are enforced in a meaningful way,” Fleischli added. “It’s meant to complement, not supplant, government action, so it can be very effective.”

Here’s what you need to know about some of the different ways you can help arrest violators of environmental law.

Many states and DC have idle limits for some or all vehicles. In some places, idling laws focus on specific vehicles that may be major sources of pollution, such as school buses, state-owned vehicles and those that exceed a certain weight. Other regulations aim minimize damage to keep engines running by limiting idling to three to five minutes for many vehicles. According to the Department of Energyremoving unnecessary idling from personal vehicles would have the same impact as taking 5 million cars off the road.

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To help enforce idle limits, several cities have implemented initiatives to encourage the public to report violators, and reporting often includes providing evidence in the form of videos or photos. Please note that the reporting process and requirements for what constitutes illegal idling may differ depending on your location. Here are some examples:

  • Philadelphia: You can report diesel heavy vehicles for illegally idling by calling a complaint line or sending an email.
  • CD: The DC Department of Energy and Environment has established his own idle law enforcement program. Reports of vehicles idling for more than three minutes (time limit is extended up to five minutes when temperatures are 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below) may be submitted via DC mobile app 311. Residents are encouraged to file complaints for commercial trucks and buses, in accordance with the program’s reporting guidelines. Non-commercial personal passenger cars and vehicles that must remain running to operate machinery, such as cement mixers, are exempt.
  • NY: The city became the first in the country to offer a reduction in fines issued to people who report polluting trucks. Released in 2018, the “Air Complaint Citizen Program” incentivizes people to submit videos of trucks idling for more than three minutes, or one minute if outside of a school, providing a payment of 25 percent of the final fine. With fines for illegal idling ranging from $350 to $2,000a single successful report could net you over $80.

But while the New York program, which is enforced by the Department of Environmental Protection, has Illegal idling complaints reportedly skyrocketed in recent years, there have been some concerns about offering citizens a monetary reward.

“Just as we should vote, we should report violations of the law because that is the fundamental obligation, in my opinion, of a citizen in a democratic society,” said Maria Maki Haberfeld, a professor in the department of law, police science. and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “That’s why I don’t think it should necessarily be compensated with money. I think it’s a matter of good citizenship rather than a for-profit initiative.”

And using the money as an incentive could create its own problems, Haberfeld said. Beyond potentially creating additional strain on police-community relations, the lucrative opportunity could lead people to file exaggerated or false reports, he said. “It’s also problematic from the standpoint of possible altercations that people might have with the people they’re reporting.”

In New York, some dedicated citizen advocates say that expect to be confrontedwhile others have counted getting into physical altercations with the drivers of the vehicles they are trying to report.

New York City is also looking to expand its idle enforcement to illegally parked vehicles, including those blocking bike lanes. Following the idle program model, a proposed bill would allow citizens to submit photos of blocked bike lanes and other parking violations, such as obstructed crosswalks and sidewalks, to the Department of Transportation and potentially receive a quarter of the resulting fine amount.

“When we look at the biggest sources of emissions in New York City, it’s our buildings followed by transportation,” said New York City Councilman Lincoln Restler, who sponsored the legislation. “We need to get New Yorkers out of their personal vehicles and onto the subway, buses and bikes. But if New Yorkers are going to regularly commute by bike, they need to feel safer doing so.”

Responding to concerns that it could create another reason for citizen vigilantes to take to the streets, Restler said that people who are going to file complaints need to understand the law and reporting guidelines and receive proper training. .

“The most important thing to me is that we make our streets safe, and my priority is that pedestrians and bicyclists can move through our streets safely and efficiently,” he said. “The potential incentive for whistleblowers is an effective way to maximize accountability against illegal activities and quickly make our streets safer.”

Offering rewards is also “nothing new,” Fleischli said. He added that enforcement agencies still have “a lot of discretion” when it comes to addressing any violations reported by citizens.

“There is still a trier of fact involved in the process to determine whether or not the violations actually occurred,” he said. “It’s not like the person just issued the ticket themselves.”

Several local governments have also turned to citizens for help enforcing laws aimed at stop illegal dumping. Through these programs, similar to other community reporting initiatives, people who report violations in certain cities and counties may be eligible to receive cash rewards. Some examples include:

  • Rochester, New York: The city offers $100 to any citizen whose report leads to the person or organization doing the illegal dumping.
  • milwaukee: In Milwaukee, people who report illegal dumping can receive up to $1,000 if they provide enough information to lead to a subpoena. “Illegal dumping is a burden to residents and a blight on our beautiful city,” the city’s website states. “Don’t let illegal dumping ruin your neighborhood.”
  • sacrament: This rewards program awards between $500 and $1,000 to individuals who provide information that results in a penalty or arrest and conviction, with limits on the total amount of rewards and the amount of compensation a single person can receive each year.

If you live in an area prone to drought, you may be able to help take strong action about the wasteful use of water by reporting violations of local regulations.

In drought-stricken California, Residents Encouraged to Report Water Violations through an online portal. The website, which allows users to anonymously submit reports as well as photos of water leaks and waste, is described as “an easy-to-use tool that directly reports water waste to the proper authority, anywhere in the world.” California”.

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The portal, SaveWater.ca.govserves as a “comprehensive platform” for people and organizations to file complaints, said Chris Hyun, emergency regulations lead for water conservation at the California State Water Resources Control Board.

“What happens in one building or home affects the water supply for all buildings and homes in a municipal area,” Hyun said. “Being able to report to the common water provider, understand where the leaks might be or where the violations might be, it helps everyone in the community.”

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