PORT TOWNSEND — It is possible, these teenagers find, to change things.
Last summer, after an organized campaign, Port Townsend’s Students for Sustainability got a plastic-straw ban enacted in the city. As of Jan. 1 of this year, food service businesses must provide paper, biodegradable or reusable straws and drink stirrers — no plastic, according to the ordinance.
The Port Townsend City Council responded to the students’ legwork by passing the new law.
Now Students for Sustainability has mounted a new endeavor that’s as much about raising awareness as it is about banning something.
That something is vehicle idling. It’s prohibited in locales across the country, noted club leader Anna Molotsky, 16.
Via its Facebook page and at studentsforsustain.wixsite.com/website, Students for Sustainability provides a link to a Change.org petition. Supporters can help the group move toward its goal of 300 to 500 signatures, which will be presented to the Port Townsend City Council later this year.
“We can’t go door to door because of COVID,” said Molotsky, but the she and her fellow activists can use the internet.
“We’re looking at Philly, New York and Salt Lake City,” she said, adding that those cities have laws compelling motorists to turn their engines off if they’re not going anywhere.
In Philadelphia, a motorist who idles for longer than three minutes — repeatedly, after a warning from law enforcement — can face a fine of up to $300, three months in jail or both.
But Molotsky doesn’t see Port Townsend imposing such penalties, if and when a ban is passed.
“It would probably be just like a parking ticket,” she said, adding the new law would have exceptions for days and nights of extreme cold, when drivers idle to keep their heaters hot. There would also be an exception for those who use their cars for shelter.
Idling, even for a few minutes, is harmful to people, especially elders and children, Molotsky said: It pollutes the air and contributes to greenhouse gases while wasting money.
Kids suffer most, she said. Motor vehicle exhaust has been connected to asthma, allergies, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
While waiting to drive onto the ferry, pick up a child at school or a spouse at work, “people honestly just forget,” Molotsky said.
Students for Sustainability member Lochlan Krupa, 16, added that even if a ban isn’t strictly enforced, some good can come of “just getting the idea out there. It’s just something people don’t think about.”
The Port Townsend ferry terminal has seen its share of idling, even if Washington State Ferries posts “No idling” signs, said state ferries system spokesperson Kathy Mesa.
“They are advisory only, as there is no state law on idling,” she noted in an email.
“Our terminal employees can only ask drivers to turn off their engine while waiting for the ferry … [a worker] would ask a customer to turn off their engine if prompted by another drive-on customer parked near the idling vehicle.
“We usually see a lot of these requests in the warm summer months when drivers have their windows down,” Mesa said.
As for Krupa and Molotsky, the summer break will bring more time to devote to their cause. They will not be idling much — since Krupa’s family doesn’t own a car and Molotsky, though she does have a driver’s license, chooses walking or bicycling as often as possible.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected] news.com.