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Tennessee Tech admits results of glider kit study were “inaccurate”

Glider kits are a way for truck owners to buy a new truck with a remanufactured engine, most often at a significant discount from a new truck and engine combination. ( Photo: Fitzgerald Glider Kits )

Tennessee Technological University (Tennessee Tech) has acknowledged that the results of its controversial glider kit study were “inaccurate.”

“The university has concluded its internal investigation and has found that certain conclusions reported in the June 2017 letter were not accurate,” Trudy Harper, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees for the university, wrote in a letter to Sen. Diane Black (R-TN), the EPA, and Tommy Fitzgerald, CEO of Fitzgerald Glider Kits, which commissioned the study.

The letter follows an investigation after Tennessee Tech came under fire from industry stakeholders for claiming that glider kits did not produce any more emissions than modern, OEM engines. Fitzgerald submitted the results of that study, outlined in a June 2017 letter, to the EPA as a basis for its argument that glider kits should be exempt from EPA’s Phase 2 greenhouse gas emissions regulations.

The Tennessee Tech (TTU) study concluded “research showed that optimized and remanufactured 2002-2007 engines and OEM ‘certified’ engines performed equally as well and, in some instances, out-performed the OEM engines.” In her letter, Harper said the university determined that this statement was “inaccurate in two respects.”

“First, the field-testing procedures used by Tennessee Tech in this research effort were not sufficient to justify comparisons with EPA emissions standards. Second, following a review of the supporting data for these statements, Tennessee Tech has determined that the data does not support the statement that optimized and remanufactured engines performed equally as well as OEM ‘certified’ engines.

Harper went on to note that the intent of the research “was to conduct relative comparisons of emissions from OEM engines and engines remanufactured with the sponsoring company’s glider kits.” The tests were intended to set a baseline, she wrote, further stating that the methodology was sound and appropriate “for the project based upon the project’s original intent.”

TTU faculty questioned the original study, and in particular, the relationship between Fitzgerald and TTU, calling it a conflict of interest.

The Tennessee Tech study was cited by EPA director Scott Pruitt when he announced in November 2017 he would make the regulatory change requested by Black. The study was then used to lobby a measure that allows the rebuilt diesel engines to be exempt from federal emissions rules.

In July, EPA announced it would not enforce a 300-truck per manufacturer cap on glider kits through 2019 until it could complete a formal rulemaking to repeal the inclusion of glider kits in the Phase 2 rules. After an uproar ensued, EPA reversed course and said the cap would remain in place. The rulemaking that was started has now been quietly ended, likely leaving the glider kit cap in place indefinitely.

The controversial study has since led to hearings on Capitol Hill, and entangled Volvo Trucks in the controversy. Volvo supplied vehicles for a competing study that was entered into the official rulemaking docket by EPA staff.

In an early September hearing before the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology, Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ) praised the Trump administration for trying to stop the inclusion of glider kits in the EPA’s Phase 2 GHG regulations and attacked Volvo’s involvement.

“Recognizing that this rule, which was slated to take full effect in January 2018, would have devastated the emerging glider kit industry, the Trump administration wisely pursued corrective action. In August of 2017, then-EPA Administrator Pruitt stated an intention to repeal the 2016 glider rule, which EPA officially proposed on November 16, 2017,” Biggs said in his opening statement.

The representative went on to say that Volvo “began secretly working with the [National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory] in September of 2017 to conduct” a study that went on to say that glider kits would be harmful to the environment and unable to meet EPA emissions regulations required of new truck engines, as required by Phase 2. In July, Biggs’ committee requested documents from EPA surrounding Volvo’s participation in the study.

“Materials obtained by the Committee clearly show that Volvo (SS: VOLV-B), a regulated entity, initiated conversations with EPA employees in the NVFEL in an apparent effort to shape the outcome of the study by specifying test articles to use and laying out the schedule on which the test program should be conducted,” Biggs said.

After questions about the initial TTU study came to light, the university retracted the study from the official record pending the just-concluded investigation.

“It is the desire of every individual involved with Tennessee Tech that we maintain the highest degree of integrity in everything we do, especially in scholarly endeavors that lead to informing public policy,” Harper wrote. “We take our responsibility in this area very seriously, and we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused by the inaccuracies in the June 2017 letter.” 

Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]