Interview with Reverend Jennifer McKenna
Conducted by Ellen Simon
October 26, 2007
Jennifer McKenna, a reverend at the Second Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, organized the Clean Air Board in 2005. Motivated by medical consensus regarding the effects of Carlisle’s poor air quality, Rev. McKenna and members of the Clean Air Board have made significant accomplishments in lobbying for legislation of the air quality in Carlisle. In my interview with Rev. McKenna, we discuss the origins, projects and goals of the Clean Air Board. Truly a community effort, Rev. McKenna describes the Clean Air Board’s coalition with doctors, lawyers, professors and, most interestingly, the truck industry.
Ms. Simon: As a Carlisle resident, how have you seen Carlisle change over the years?
Rev. McKenna: The main change I’ve seen is that the number of trucks coming through Carlisle has increased. There’s been a huge influx of the trucking industry, warehousing and truck stops, so that’s been a big change.
Ms. Simon: Why do you think that has happened?
Rev. McKenna: Because the location of Carlisle is right-You can get anywhere on the East Coast within one day’s drive from Carlisle, so it’s a great place for trucks to drop things off and pick up new loads because of its location so close to major eastern sea-board cities.
Ms. Simon: How would you describe downtown Carlisle?
Rev. McKenna: I think we have a very interesting historic downtown. I would like to see it a little more…the traffic a little calmer. You know, I worry about people going too fast and really not appreciating all that is down here. I worry about people getting hit. It’s not really friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians. Because of the increase in truck traffic through Carlisle, it’s not great for outside café eating. One of the reasons I think the trucks come through the downtown is that I think they are using these GPS systems and they get lost, or else the GPS tells them the most direct way to get from the turnpike to a warehouse is to come through Route 11, which is downtown here. So I think if there were clearer directions maybe they wouldn’t have to come. I know they don’t have to come downtown. So, I just don’t see any reason except for delivery trucks for there to be trucks in the downtown.
Ms. Simon: Right, I was talking to Jeff and he mentioned that the biggest truck that should really have to come downtown is the soda truck. He gets his deliveries in a van. So I really thought that was interesting. Business wouldn’t really suffer…. How would you describe business in downtown Carlisle?
Rev. McKenna: I think there is an increasing variety. I think it has a lot of potential. I think it should be a little more pedestrian friendly so people could walk down here and it could be, you know, a really lovely downtown that people could walk around and look in the different stores. It has revived some in the last twenty years, so I’ve seen the potential that it could be, and I guess historically, it used to be a lot more going on here before there was a mall outside of town.
Ms. Simon: When you were growing up, was it more bustling? Did you shop downtown for everything you needed?
Rev. McKenna: Yes. And then a mall came and then it went. But in the mean time we lost a lot of the stores that were downtown here in terms of, like, clothing stores and shoe stores. But you know we’ve gained some more restaurants, and there’s more ethnic restaurants here than there ever used to be. And there’s some really nice furniture stores.
Ms. Simon: Let’s see, so I understand that you formed the Clean Air Board yourself. Is that true?
Rev. McKenna: I saw the ad that was in the newspaper when the physicians in town all signed a resolution saying that the health of our community was being compromised by these diesel particulate matters. So I called one of the physicians and I said, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?’ and they said, ‘Well, we just did it.’ And I’m like, there’s gotta be more than just one ad in the paper. So I put an ad in our bulletin at the church and said ‘Anybody interested in trying to figure out what we can do about the air?’ And like, twenty people came. And then we just expanded it to other people and other communities in the town, and so it has continued to meet and that’s been about two years ago.
Ms. Simon: So you formed the board in I guess 2005?
Rev. McKenna: Yes, I think that’s right.
Ms. Simon: So what areas do you advocate for? Simply Carlisle or the greater…
Rev. McKenna: No, we say Central Pennsylvania.
Ms. Simon: Do you work with other organizations in neighboring counties?
Rev. McKenna: Well, sure. Anybody who wants to sign our petition or work with us, we’re open to all groups, and lots of different groups have joined with us. I think most interesting for your project is that we’ve had quite a few trucking companies that we have particularly asked to join with us and to sign on with us in terms of signing a pledge that they wouldn’t idle. And I guess to back up, as we began meeting and learning more about what particulate matter does to your lungs, for me the significant thing is for children. Their lungs won’t develop ever if they’re exposed to this particulate matter, and it’s invisible. You can’t see it. It’s one-twentieth the size of a human hair, so it’s very small, and I was just so impressed with how many people at our first meeting [are effected]. I said, ‘well how many of you are affected by asthma, or some bronchial thing’ and everybody’s hand went up. So, I think if you ask around town and find out, I mean everywhere I’ve gone, it’s been the same thing. Everybody has said they never had bronchial problems or respiratory problems until they came here. And Dr. Philip Carey is another person you might want to talk to because he’s the one who got all these physicians to sign the ad that was originally in the paper. And he’s a pulmonologist and he began noticing that it was getting harder and harder to treat his patients and it’s taking stronger and stronger drugs. And he began wondering why and then began studying and noticing all the articles about the medical dangers of particulate matter and putting two and two together with the increase in truck traffic. So he’s been a wonderful support and has been part of our board as an expert in the field. And we also have some attorneys who used to be working for the Department of Environmental Protection. So we’re made up of a variety of people from town, but we are all volunteers. This is a little bit of a history. So we began by wondering what in the world could we do about a problem that seems like it’s too big for one little town to do anything because we’re along 81 and what can we do to do anything about traffic on 81? But we learned that because we have so many truck stops right off of the turnpike, I don’t know if you’ve ever been out there, but we call it the Miracle Mile between the turnpike exit and when you get on 81. There are 800 trucks, 24/7, idling out there in those truck stops, and 3000 in just Carlisle and Mechanicsburg and 13,000 in the whole state. And they’re idling because the drivers need to stay warm or cool in the summer, so they let their engines run. In fact, some are proud of the fact that they never turn their trucks off. They can go a month at a time and never turn their trucks off.
Ms. Simon: It’s the sole reason of just personal comfort?
Rev. McKenna: Yes. And it costs more to run the trucks, we’ve learned.
So anyway, we thought because we’re in a unique position-and we’ve also found out that there’s no other place in the whole state of Pennsylvania that has this many trucks idling all the time-so we figure it has to be some of the problem with our air. And we’re actually out of compliance with the National Clean Air Act, which is for particulate matter. There are standards in which they measure certain things in the air, like ozone is one-I think there are four or five things they measure. But the particulate matter standard is… we are way above it. So, it’s sort of hard to believe in this beautiful valley that we are really one of the fourteenth most polluted counties in the whole country. [Laughs]
Trucks on Hanover Street, Carlisle, PA. December 5th, 2007. Photograph by Ellen Simon.
Ms. Simon: I can’t believe that.
So you mentioned all these people you’ve been working with. Has there been anyone that is opposed to what you’re doing?
Rev. McKenna: At first, as I said, we were just educating and trying to get out and we were speaking to every group that would have us. We’ve spoken to schools and lots of township supervisor meetings and lots of politicians. And then we decided to tackle the idling as one of our issues and we learned that our state does not have an anti-idling law. And so we began working on that in particular and asked truckers if they would join with us and so we wrote what is called a regulation and went through the Department of Environmental Protection [D.E.P.] and we learned that there are two ways of getting a law. One is to get a legislator to pass it through the legislative process, and the other is a regulation process, and that goes through the D.E.P. And we also learned that they have to take it before an Environmental Quality Board [E.Q.B.]. And so we did all that, got it passed through the first two barriers. Then the E.Q.B. took it under consideration for a couple of months. Anyway… they finally have accepted it, so now we’re in a period of ninety days when there will be hearings held around the state on whether or not people want an anti-idling regulation.
So we’re very pleased that just this little group of citizens has been able to get this process started that could change the state law. And we do feel as though if trucks had an alternative to idling, and one of the alternatives are something called IdleAir stations where they could pull in and plug their truck, the part of the truck that they sleep in, into something like a gas station plug, and they can be heated and cooled and they have access to computers. They have to rest for 10 hours for every 11 hours they drive, and so, during the time that they’re here, that’s what they’re doing. They’re sleeping, so they just need to stay comfortable and safe. But without a law it’s hard to change a habit. So we’ve been out there, and they are not using those IdleAir machines. They are still idling.
Ms. Simon: So there are idling machines now, but no one is using them?
Rev. McKenna: Only some are being used. So we think until they get fines for not using them when they’re available it’s not going to change. We only have seventy-two of those IdleAir alternatives.
Ms. Simon: Are they expensive?
Rev. McKenna: Yes. $15,000 dollars. We asked the state to put those in, and they did. And so, we also asked the state if they would provide some grant money to the small independent truck drivers who can’t afford to buy-it’s called an auxiliary power unit, A.P.U.s as they call it. We’ve learned this lingo here. And it’s sort of like when you have those vans you can live in they have A.P.U.s. It’s an alternative power unit that you can buy. And those are about $6,500. So most of the fleets, like big fleets, can buy those for their truck drivers. But independent drivers we have learned are really eeking out a living. It’s not an easy life to be a truck driver when you have your own rig and that’s all you have and you’re away from your family all the time. You don’t make a lot of money, and so to buy an A.P.U. is going to be hard for them. So we’re asking the state to put three years in the regulation so that the truck industry will have until 2010 to comply, that everybody can get one of these APUs, and then the state can start giving fines.
Ms. Simon: So does that mean that the Anti-Idling Law would come into effect in 2010?
Rev. McKenna: Well, they wouldn’t actually get fines until 2010. It will become law, and if they are parked in an IdleAir slot and are not using it, they could get a fine. But if they don’t have any other alternatives, then I guess we have to wait until they all have time to catch up. This just happened like a week ago that it passed through the final phase of the E.Q.B. thing, and now the ninety days of hearings will probably start in about three or four weeks. So it hasn’t actually started yet.
Ms. Simon: Well, Congratulations!
Rev. McKenna: Here’s a little bit of a history of kind of what we’ve done just to give you an idea: One of the interesting things is that there was a picture in the paper about our formation and Kathleen McGinty, who is the head of the D.E.P., called me up and said, ‘I want to talk to you. Why are you interested in this?’ And I said ‘Okay.’ So, I told her we are a faith-based organization of citizens because I believe that we are supposed to be good stewards of the earth and take care of it. And certainly it would be immoral to know that this air is hurting our children and not do anything. So she was like, ‘Okay, well how can I help you?’ And so we asked for these IdleAirs, we asked for another monitor in town because to get the readings that they got for Carlisle to find out that we were out of compliance, they’re using a monitor that is four miles out of town, away, away from where all the trucks are. So we asked her to put a monitor in town that is closer to where the people live so we could actually know what the air is where we live. And they agreed to do that. And that’s taken, oh gosh, almost a year to get this thing up. They put it up, we finally agreed on a location and it’s on this, it’s called the Macaluso’s home. They just agreed to donate their backyard so they put the monitor in, and the readings have been going on since May, but we haven’t been officially told what they are yet. So we’ll find that out, maybe…they said the 1st of November, so that’s coming up pretty soon.
Ms. Simon: Do you have any expectation for what that reading will be? Do you think it will have improved?
Rev. McKenna: Oh no, I don’t think so. I think it’ll be at least the same as what they have been. And where this is located is right close to the exit of 44, where they are about to put in a lot more warehouses so there will be a lot more trucks upwind from where this new monitor is. So I think it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. But I just think that people need to know, and still, I would say the majority of this town is not aware of particulate matter, or that we have a problem. We have really worked at it and we have had finally some good editorials from the newspaper about what we’re doing. And we’ve had a lot of good press coverage but I’m sure most people are unaware. So…we’ve got an uphill battle yet to go. But, anyway…
Ms. Simon: Well, just so you know, a lot of people have been talking about it on the Dickinson Campus.
Rev. McKenna: Oh really? Good!
Ms. Simon: So, that’s sort of what sparked my interest because my teacher was talking about it, President Durden was talking about it. So I was like ‘really? The fourteenth worst?’
Rev. McKenna: Yes!
Ms. Simon: I couldn’t believe it.
Rev. McKenna: Yes, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it? That’s according to the American Lung Association, so they’re pretty reliable. Yes, so, let’s see… we began working with some of the Dickinson College professors. There’s Professor Heiman an Environmental Science guy-we’ve had a lot of students from his class come. Anyway, we have actually formed ourselves as-we’ve incorporated and we’ve gotten our tax exempt number. That’s exciting. We just got that relatively recently, too. So, we’ve learned a lot about how you form an organization. Here’s a list of all the trucking companies in town who have agreed to not idle on a voluntary basis until the law becomes rule. This guy Jesse Keen has been wonderful. We had a symposium back in February of 2006, and had anybody who knew anything about air come and talk to us as sort of an educational thing for the community, and we had truckers come, and we had trucking companies come, and we had D.E.P. come. So we got the medical, the legal, the perspective from the road, kinda thing. And we had quite a big group of people attend, and Jesse Keen, who is the owner of a big trucking company here said, ‘Wow. I didn’t realize we were causing such a problem, and we should be part of the solution.’ And he has been wonderful. He organized another symposium for us to all speak to all the trucking companies in the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association. So, it was like, ‘what’s this going to be like?’ We thought if anybody is going to throw eggs at us, it’ll be here. But they didn’t! They all are kind of aware. In fact, some of the truck drivers told us that they actually come to Pennsylvania to idle because they know they can get away with it here. All the surrounding states have anti-idling laws, like Maryland, District of Columbia, New Jersey, New York. So they knew it was coming, and they don’t actually like the fact… they said to us ‘how about getting a national law done?’ And we’re like, ‘Okay, but let’s start with Pennsylvania because we just are this little group of people.’ But the reason they don’t like, every state has a different regulation. Like you can idle for five minutes in every hour, if it’s below 40 and over 80 in some states. And so it’s different in every state…. Look, there is another big one [truck] going through downtown. So every truck driver has to have a list of what the regulations are in every state. And so they would like to have one uniform national standard for this, so they don’t have to keep struggling to learn it.
Ms. Simon: That’s a great idea. I’m surprised that the trucking industry is so on board for this.
Rev. McKenna: Well, they don’t like it, but they realize it’s kind of inevitable. They don’t like regulations, they don’t like it at all. But they realize it’s going to come, and you can either have a part in deciding what kind of a law it’ll be, or you’re going to get it imposed on you. So they actually appreciated that we were coming to them and saying, ‘What’s your input? What would be your reaction to this?’ Because we realize that if they opposed us we would have a hard time getting this law passed, and so we did give some concessions, like giving them three years to get caught up and I think we had different ideas about the temperature. And Jesse [Keen] said ‘Now, you go outside and spend the night in 30 degrees.’ That’s where we, I think, were starting at, and it was pretty cold so we realized that ‘Okay, if I had to sleep out in thirty degrees, I mean you could take a sleeping bag or whatever, but it’s just not really comfortable.’ So we tried to be considerate about what their needs are, too. Because we’d have a stronger coalition if we could do it with the truckers.
Ms. Simon: Is this a list of all the truckers in Carlisle?
Rev. McKenna: Most of the trucking companies that have voluntarily agreed not to idle on their property. Yes, you could talk to any one of them.
Ms. Simon: How many more need to agree?
Rev. McKenna: Oh brother, I think this is the majority of the ones in town here, but we need to get….and the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association for the whole state has agreed to be on our board. So that’s really great because he can help us when it comes time for these hearings. That seems to be what impresses legislators the most. We go as a team, and I go as a minister. We have a lawyer who gives the legal side of it, and Pennsylvania could get hit. I mean if we don’t get into compliance with this clean air thing, they can keep money from our roads, they can keep any kind of new development that would add to pollution from ever coming here. So there could be serious ramifications for the state, if they don’t get it under control. But then to go with Dr. Cary and Jesse [Keen], so they’re like, ‘Huh? You all are working together?’ ‘Yes! And we like each other.’ It’s good. You know we have a good little team.
Ms. Simon: Yes, you’ve made a lot of progress in the past two years alone.
Rev. McKenna: Well, I’m not alone. I mean there are a lot of other people here. I didn’t know if you were coming from a biology perspective, I didn’t know what your student status is.
Ms. Simon: Well I’ll take anything you have to give me.
Rev. McKenna: Yes, these are just some of the articles, and Pam Frohman is the secretary of our organization, and she would be glad to send you more articles on any topic. We just didn’t know what topic you were most interested in. So this is our little brochure that we put together about our own organization so you can have that. And then this is from the Clean Air Task Force and it goes into a lot of detail, maybe more than you’re interested in about what the problem is with diesel particulate matter.
One of the people that challenge us says, ‘well what about burning leaves? That creates soot. What about the oil in our furnaces?’ But Dr. Carey says the ingredients in diesel particulate matter have forty of the compounds that as a chemical compound are carcinogenic. He said they spent years in the field of medicine trying to figure out what the best way to deliver medicine to a person’s lungs. And they tried all different ways of getting medicine to lungs, and if you know about one of those nebulizer things. It’s a fine mist, and the mist is delivering medicine to your lungs and it’s on a little particulate matter. And it turns out the very best size to get medicine into your lungs to the deepest parts of your lungs is 2.5mg. So, it’s exactly the right size to get to your deepest part of your lungs, and that’s the size of diesel particulate matter. So while it’s the right size for good things, it’s the right size for bad things. He keeps saying all particulate matter is not the same. He says, like you have different kinds of apples, you have different kinds of particulate matter. Dirt or soot doesn’t kill you, but this stuff…he says, it’s one of the worst things made by humankind. So it’s really serious. For one thing to get all the doctors in this town, like I don’t know, over a hundred of them signed this petition which is pretty unusual for that many doctors to ever agree on anything. So I figure this must be serious. I’m just afraid because I have nieces and nephews who live here and I don’t want them to grow up without full capacity lungs. You know, I just think we’ve got to do something to stop this. So, it’s just a really small start but I guess one of the long range things that will help is that by 2010 the trucking industry is creating new engines for trucks that, according to Jesse Keen, this trucker we know, says the air coming out of these trucks will be cleaner than the air going in. Now, he also says you know most trucking companies are not going to buy new rigs. They’re not going to replace their whole rigs because they’re very expensive. And so it’ll take a long time, and these trucks can last from twenty to twenty-five years. He says he replaces, I think he said five or ten every year. But it’s going to take a long time to replace this whole, you know…the whole fleet, I think they call, of trucks. So down the road, maybe fifty years from now, we’ll have cleaner trucks. But until then, that’s one of the problems.
Another problem we’ve been working on are school buses. Because school buses, it turns out, also have diesel engines and it turns out that for some reason the way the circulation works in school buses is that its actually worse in the bus than it is outside of the bus. We’ve talked to several school districts and asked them to institute anti-idling policies for their school buses. Carlisle School District is doing really well. They only have… I think he said fifteen old diesel buses, which they are replacing. And that’s good. The rest are gasoline, or 2000 and newer. But, the surrounding school districts around us, there is South Middleton and there is Big Springs down in Newville, and they have some work to do. They are not convinced they have to do this. So we have one member who picks her children up everyday at the school bus, and she pounds on the doors and tells the drivers to turn off their engines! She’s come into various responses to that. [Laughs]. You know it’s not good for the drivers either, so you know we’re working on that, and there are some coalitions we’re beginning to make with people in Pittsburg and Philadelphia to see how they’re working on this because obviously the big city schools have different issues than we do.
Ms. Simon: Would you identify trucks and buses as the top two vehicles that are problematic?
Rev. McKenna: Yes.
Ms. Simon: And so then do you see the traffic issue, do you more find it problematic because of what it does to the air quality, or do you see impacts in other areas in Carlisle?
Rev. McKenna: Well it impacts the businesses down here. I would say, we don’t want the pollution, but that’s our [CAB] particular reason. We also happen to support the businesses here, and we want the downtown to thrive economically. And we think that if, for instance, some traffic calming measures that might help people to go a little slower and make it a little friendlier to pedestrians. And maybe even for the businesses. You know, I mean, that’s what the businesses say. Rusty Shunk and Karen would tell you that they don’t like people speeding by here because it doesn’t help business.
Ms. Simon: Right. Jeff Woods was saying how it makes people feel-or from his perception, makes people feel that they’re in an atmosphere that’s an unnatural scale. It was really interesting.
Rev. McKenna: Yes, that’s good. Yes, it is kind of crazy, as your president [President Durden] pointed out. We have a two lane highway until we get to the college, and then pschh, it broadens out to this big boulevard which normally is a signal, ‘ok speed up now!’ We’re getting from a two lane country road to a big wide street, so go faster. It’s the wrong message to give to drivers. You don’t want them to be speeding through here.
Ms. Simon: Do you think that CAB would tackle that issue after you deal with anti-idling?
Rev. McKenna: Well, we are working on it with a task force, including the college. Yes, we just had a meeting today, as a matter of fact. We’re going to meet-the five signers of this letter met together to talk about how we can define the scope of this traffic study. We want them to study the downtown business district and the surrounding neighborhoods because we don’t want them to say ‘okay no 18 wheelers down this street, but you can go down South Street.’ Well, that’s where people live. No! That’s not okay. So we were trying to figure out how to word it so that it’s going to be downtown, surrounding neighborhoods, and the feeder routes that bring the trucks in here. So, I mean, this town is surrounded by warehouses and so all these warehouses are the reason that the trucks are coming through here. So we have to tackle the big picture by looking at the whole surrounding area, and that’s what we want them to do is a really comprehensive traffic study so they can find-I mean I can’t tell you what the best route is going to be for these trucks, but surely traffic experts can find that out. So that’s what we’re asking-for the borough to hire a competent traffic study agency. I mean there are people who are experts in this, and they can look at all the patterns and figure out how do you calm the traffic downtown, how do you reduce the pollution where the people are, how do you maybe have some left turn lane on Hanover and High, and that would all help, I would think, but I’m not a traffic expert. We all went and spoke to the borough council and they did agree to do the study, and now we need to get it started, so we’re going to have a meeting….