Maryland School Money Diverted to Cut Bus Emissions

Published February 1, 2009

The State of Maryland has agreed to spend $1 million in taxpayer money toward reducing school bus emissions—instead of spending it on education—to settle a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The November 17 settlement clears the way for completion of one of the Washington, DC area’s most anticipated transportation projects.

Long in Planning

Spanning just under 20 miles from west to east, the Intercounty Connecter (ICC) will link I-270 in Maryland’s Montgomery County to I-95 in Prince George’s County. The ICC is designed to ease traffic congestion in Washington’s northern and eastern suburbs and provide speedier access to Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

In the discussion stage for more than 50 years, the ICC was finally lurching toward becoming a reality when, in December 2006, it encountered a legal challenge by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and two other plaintiffs. The suit charged the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with violating federal law in preparing its Environmental Impact Statement for the ICC.

Though not charged in the suit, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) intervened in the case on the side of the FHWA.

On November 8, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland-Greenbelt Division decided in favor of SHA and FHWA, ruling, “there is no legal or equitable basis to prevent the Intercounty Connecter from moving forward.” EDF appealed the decision and was still pursuing the case before reaching a settlement with SHA in November.

Settlement Terms

Under the two-part agreement with EDF, SHA will undertake a three-year, $1 million study installing air-quality monitors along a major state highway similar to the ICC and I-95. The monitors will provide information on the particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution generated by vehicles on the ICC.

SHA also will provide $1 million to retrofit diesel-powered school buses in Montgomery County with exhaust systems that reduce emissions and will work with the county’s school system to reduce idling of the buses.

SHA is already spending $370 million, or 15 percent of the ICC’s total cost, on an assortment of environmental mitigation projects related to the construction and operation of the highway. That money also will fund more than 60 environmental stewardship projects in Montgomery and Prince George’s County dealing with environmental issues unrelated to the ICC.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC.