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EPA watchdogs expect glider kit answers early in 2019

( Photo:: FW staff photographer )

Congressional inquiries into truck testing protocols and administrative procedures used by EPA to regulate glider kits are expected to be completed by the agency’s internal investigators before the end of February, FreightWaves has learned.

The two politically opposing investigations include a request made in late summer by a group of U.S. House Republicans seeking an audit of the glider vehicle testing process used by EPA at its National Vehicle and Fuels Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL) in Ann Arbor, MI. The inquiry was taken up by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General in early September.

The second investigation, at the request of U.S. Senate Democrats, seeks to determine the legality of the EPA’s proposal to repeal a 2016 emissions requirement under President Obama, which went into effect in January, preventing manufacturers from building more than 300 glider trucks per year. The EPA OIG announced on Dec. 4 it would be looking into the matter.

The OIG wants to have the results of both completed within the next three months.

“We’re trying to get the [NVFEL] project out by the beginning of February, and the [rulemaking inquiry] completed probably in February as well,” an EPA official familiar with the probes told FreightWaves on Dec. 11. “During the holidays it can get difficult trying to pin down employees and others that we need to speak with and gather documentation, so we can’t provide specific dates, but February is a safe bet.”

Depending on how they shake out, the results of the inquiries could be pivotal in determining the extent to which glider kits are federally regulated, with millions of dollars in profits and investments on the line for glider kit manufacturers as well as the thousands of independent trucking operators that plan to purchase them.

Glider kits – remanufactured engines combined with new cabs and chassis frames – can be 25% less expensive than new truck cabs, which can cost up to $200,000 or more. The kits allow independent fleet operators to better manage their operating costs as they compete for freight.

The Republican-backed audit request, led by Arizona Congressman Andy Biggs and others, asserts that NVFEL published an anti-glider study just four days after the EPA, under then-Administrator Scott Pruitt, officially proposed repeal of glider emissions standards on Nov. 16, 2017.

In addition, “it turns out that Volvo, which had previously supported efforts to increase glider regulations, began secretly working with the NVFEL in September of 2017 to conduct this study,” Biggs asserted in a hearing on Capitol Hill that he chaired on Sept. 13.

“The NVFEL only consulted with Volvo and failed to reach out to glider manufacturers for the study,” Biggs said. “Furthermore, the NVFEL based its results on a small and inadequate sample size, only testing two glider trucks that were provided by Volvo. These facts call into question the integrity of the study.”

Biggs added that if there is no repeal of the 2016 rule – which has yet to be submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for final review – “then we are setting a precedent for issuing harmful regulations without any proper scientific foundation.”

Countering Bigg’s assertions, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and fellow Democrat Tom Udall of New Mexico have reason to believe EPA’s decision “to exempt manufacturers of the dirtiest trucks on the road from the Clean Air Act’s public health protections disregarded the health and economic effects and violated requirements of the rulemaking process,” they claimed in a joint statement on Dec. 4.

Carper and Udall have specifically asked the OIG to expand the scope of an ongoing review of Pruitt’s repeal proposal to include an investigation into a pro-glider vehicle study by Tennessee Technological University that Pruitt used to support deregulating glider vehicles – the results of which Tennessee Tech has since acknowledged were not accurate.

Carper and Udall also wants EPA’s overseers to check into “last minute changes” made to Pruitt’s exemption proposal that they claim were “purposefully designed to avoid legally required health and economic analyses,” as well as into a decision by Pruitt on the day he resigned from the agency that the glider truck industry would be exempt from current emissions requirements through 2019, a decision subsequently reversed by Pruitt’s replacement, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.