NEW YORK — Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pushed an ambitious green agenda and cast himself as a national environmental leader, routinely runs afoul of his own anti-pollution policy by letting his official SUVs idle, sometimes for more than an hour.
In spot checks over the past week, The Associated Press timed idling periods for the mayor's city-owned SUVs, which shuttle him around the city or trail him when he takes the subway. The parked vehicles idled at least eight times for periods of 10 minutes to over an hour.
The mayor earlier this year strengthened the city's anti-idling law – which allows three minutes of idling – into what advocates call the nation's toughest and promised a public-awareness campaign. The bill limited idling to one minute in school zones and mandated education for taxi driver applicants.
"Those of us that want to leave a good life for our children, and want to have clean air for us to breathe, and clean water to drink ... it's incumbent on us to really carry the fight," he said at the signing.
Bloomberg's SUVs are exempt from the law because they are considered emergency vehicles, but the city is trying reduce idling, spokesman Stu Loeser said Wednesday.
The SUVs have devices enabling heat and radios to run without the engine. The devices don't allow the air conditioning to run, but the vehicles are supposed to be parked in the shade when possible, Loeser said. Nearly every time the AP noted the idling vehicles, temperatures were mild and they were parked in the shade.
"We're doing our best," Loeser said.
Bloomberg, who is running for re-election this year, sought to cast himself as a national environmental leader when he tested the waters for a possible presidential run last year.
He floated a plan to charge tolls on all vehicles entering Manhattan's most congested areas to lure more people to mass transit, wants the city's taxi fleet to go hybrid and partnered with former President Bill Clinton to retrofit city buildings to use less energy.
David Pettit, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Southern California air program, said it's troubling when environmental leaders don't live the lifestyle they advocate.
"It doesn't paint a very good picture when you see this kind of thing," he said.
Bloomberg's SUVs have been seen idling for years, but the AP closely watched the vehicles on specific days over a week in July.
On July 14, Bloomberg's two Chevrolet Suburbans pulled up to Union Square at 10:41 a.m. Bloomberg shook hands with passers-by, posed for photos and packed boxes of fruit for the hungry. Both SUVs, which are driven by the mayor's police detail, sat with their engines on until the mayor left 12 minutes later.
That afternoon, Bloomberg returned to City Hall after swearing in new police cadets. Both vehicles idled in the shade for about an hour, including while drivers went to the gate of City Hall to pick up a lunch delivery.
Three days later, the AP spotted one of his SUVs idling for about 40 minutes during a morning event, and 43 minutes more at City Hall. At a morning event this week, idling lasted more than 30 minutes. The following evening, Bloomberg gave a speech in midtown Manhattan while the vehicles idled for 45 minutes.
An Environmental Defense Fund report this year estimated that idling vehicles produce 130,000 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide each year in the city. They also emit smog-forming nitrogen oxides, soot and carbon monoxide, pollutants associated with a number of health problems.
Bloomberg's vehicles run on a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline that reduces both emissions and fuel economy. The city's anti-idling law does not make exceptions for alternative fuel vehicles.
The mayor wants to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030. A study by his office found the city produced nearly 1 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases emissions in 2005.
Bloomberg recently admitted he had done little to reduce energy use at his Upper East Side mansion, other than turning off unnecessary lights and opening windows in warm weather. He only recently had his roof painted white, an idea he has advocated.
Other environmental leaders have been criticized for not doing what they ask of citizens. In 2007, Al Gore retrofitted his Nashville home to reduce an average $1,200 monthly electric bill.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, credited with popularizing gas-guzzling Hummers before entering politics, has made over the two that he owns into more fuel-efficient models.
Heather Mayer in New York City contributed to this report.