EPA pushes to exempt glider kits from emissions regs

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has pivoted the agency toward pro-business deregulation.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has pivoted the agency toward pro-business deregulation.

When Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a year ago, Pruitt said, “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

In October, Pruitt’s EPA repealed the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from electrical power generation by 32% by 2030 relative to 2005 levels. Now the EPA has identified another CO2 regulation it seeks to abolish: in 2016, the EPA adopted a rule that required glider truck engines to meet the nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and CO2 emissions limits for the year during which the truck was assembled. The rule would have allowed small businesses each year to sell only 300 new trucks with old engines that do not meet today’s tough emissions standards. The EPA is reversing itself by proposing to exempt all glider trucks from the new regulations and allowing an unlimited number of them to be sold each year.

The EPA’s rationale is based on a new interpretation of the Clean Air Act—the EPA now finds that glider vehicles do not constitute “new motor vehicles” and that glider kits should not be treated as “incomplete” new motor vehicles. Since the Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate the emissions of new motor vehicles, this interpretation of the rule puts glider trucks outside of the EPA’s purview—the EPA is saying it does not have the authority to regulate these vehicles.

The new rulemaking follows the glider kit industry’s July 2017 petition to the EPA asking the agency to reconsider the application of emissions standards to its vehicles. The petition was signed by Tommy Fitzgerald, the president of Fitzgerald Glider Kits; Dustin Harrison, a shareholder in Harrison Truck Centers; and Dane Keener, the general manager of Indiana Phoenix. The petitioners asked EPA to relieve glider trucks from compliance with the broadened Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions standards, which were announced in October 2016 and were set to be phased in starting on January 1, 2018.

“If left in place, the Phase 2 Rule would significantly curtail American manufacturing and effectively shut down the glider industry and the nearly 20,000 jobs it supports across the nation. For example, Fitzgerald, which is based out of Tennessee and Kentucky, is currently responsible for 1,600 direct and indirect jobs in those two states alone and several thousand more associated with suppliers across the country. Yet, if this regulation goes into full effect, by the end of the year, the company will be forced to cut production and its workforce by 90%,” the petition claimed. The drastic scaling back of production at Fitzgerald would erase $512M of economic output in Tennessee alone.

Environmentalists, clean air advocates, and scientific groups lodged their objections to the EPA’s latest position on glider trucks. The National Resources Defense Council cited the EPA’s own study predicting that one model year of 10,000 glider trucks on the market would cause an increase of air pollution associated with 1,600 premature deaths. Dave Cooke, the senior analyst in the Clean Vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, issued a statement protesting the decision. “It’s unacceptable for the EPA to expose families across the country to dangerous pollution levels, but that’s exactly what Administrator Pruitt is doing with this decision. Glider vehicles that are simply new truck bodies containing outdated engines emit 20 to 40 times more pollution than other new trucks, causing smog and contributing to heart disease and respiratory disease,” Cooke wrote.

But the glider truck industry petitioners pointed out that by recycling approximately 4,000 lbs of cast steel in their remanufacturing processes, their re-assembled trucks avoid the environmental impacts of casting virgin steel, including massive nitrogen oxide emissions, and would also substantially reduce their carbon footprint.

Attached to the glider assemblers’ petition as an appendix was a letter from President Philip Oldham of Tennessee Tech University and Thomas Brewer, Associate VP of TTU’s Center for Intelligent Mobility, outlining the results of their study of the environmental impacts of reassembled glider trucks and OEM trucks. The researchers found that glider truck fleet owners are generally vigilant in maintenance and optimize their fleets for maximum efficiency throughout the lifespan of the vehicle. Oldham and Brewer wrote, “Further, glider kit assemblers facilitate research and development for OEMs by conducting innovative research for fuel additives, emission devices, tire and wheel combinations in small production runs and are currently testing components, lightweight drive systems, alternative fuel mixtures, autonomous drive systems, lightweight body materials, and intelligent transportation systems. As a general statement, our observation is glider assemblers are in tune with industry needs and cutting edge innovation.”

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