House committee tackles glider kit emissions study

  Photo: Truckstopimages.com

Photo: Truckstopimages.com

Glider kits have once again worked their way into the news as the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology held a hearing on Thursday on the trucks. Kicking off the hearing, which was held to look at the underlying science and impacts of glider truck regulations, 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.

“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.

For its part, Volvo has acknowledged cooperating with the EPA but said it has done nothing improper. Volvo does not offer glider kits. The company, along with Cummins and Daimler, have lobbied against the repeal of the glider kit emissions compliance requirements.

Biggs also questioned the timing of the NVFEL study, saying that it was released just weeks before EPA was to hold a public hearing on the repeal of the glider kit restrictions and nearly a year after the original rule was finalized.

It is not the only glider kit study that has come under fire. A study by Tennessee Tech that concluded that glider kits produce no more pollution than engines with modern emissions systems was questioned earlier this year. That study was sponsored by Fitzgerald Glider Kits.

Glider kits are new truck chassis equipped with older engines, usually pre-2002 emissions engines.

Currently, EPA is enforcing a glider truck manufacturing cap that prevents manufacturers from producing more than 300 such vehicles a year. The cap was an about-face for the agency, which has faced lawsuits and pressure from industry to uphold the original glider truck regulations outlined in the Phase 2 regulations.

Also on the panel was Linda Tsang, Legislative Attorney, Congressional Research Service, Collin Long, Director of Government Affairs, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Dr. Paul J. Miller, Deputy Director & Chief Scientist, Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), and Dr. Richard B. Belzer, Independent Consultant in Regulation, Risk, Economics & Information Quality.

The panel was not without its critics, as Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) noted that neither Volvo nor a representative from the EPA was invited to the hearing.

“Commonsense regulations like the Phase 2 rules for heavy-duty vehicles exemplify what happens when the federal government works collaboratively with regulated industries to create standards that are economically achievable, technically feasible, and protective of the public health, something some members of the majority seem to suggest is impossible,” she said.

While not speaking directly to the science involved, Long noted that the purchase price of new trucks has risen between $50,000 and $70,000 since 2002 as federal emissions standards have added cost and complexity to the models, making glider kits an economical option for many truckers.

“As a result, purchasing a new truck has become prohibitively expensive for small businesses, with owner-operators finding it more and more difficult to remain competitive because of such excessive federal regulations,” Long said. “One of the ways small-business truckers can manage their costs while operating at a high level of efficiency is the through the purchase of glider kits.”

Long noted that gliders kits are 25% less expensive than a new truck. This is in part, he said, because glider kits are exempt from the statutory 12% sales tax that applies to the first retail sale of a new truck.

Turning to some of the benefits, Long said that OOIDA members operating glider kits generally receive fuel economy benefits.

“Our members who operate glider kits have generally reported better fuel economy rates than those driving newer vehicles,” he said. “While others will debate the environmental impacts associated with emissions reductions, it is important to consider how the use of glider kits affects our industry’s consumption of fossil fuels. The average truck driver purchases approximately 19,500 gallons of fuel per year. An increase in fuel efficiency by just 1 mpg would save almost 3,000 gallons of fuel. It is also important to remember that as vehicles using refurbished equipment, glider kits recycle millions of pounds of steel each year.”

Long also pointed out the complexity of modern emissions systems and the costs they incur for upkeep and repair, leading many OOIDA members to consider purchasing a glider kit.

“In a 2018 survey of owner-operators, 14% of respondents who planned to purchase a commercial motor vehicle in the next several years favored glider kits, while only 12% indicated they would buy an entirely new truck,” he said.

Miller testified that NESCAUM is supportive of the current rule requiring glider kits to meet Phase 2 regulations. “NESCAUM and member states strongly oppose a repeal of emissions requirements for glider kit trucks because of the very serious harm to air quality and public health that will occur if this loophole is reopened,” he said.

NESCAUM is a non-profit supporting air quality on behalf of its 8 member states in the Northeast.

Miller supported the findings of the NVFEL study, adding that current studies support the case that exposure to fine particulates pose a public health risk and pointed out that in its 2016 Phase 2 rulemaking, EPA “correctly recognized” these dangers in crafting the legislation.

Belzer worked on a study in May on glider kits for Fitzgerald Glider Kits. Belzer noted he conducted the study over two weeks and Fitzgerald did not have a right to review the findings, which have been published on Belzer’s website. Belzer said the study was his own work. In addition to his consulting work, his website said he works as an economist in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget.

“There are significant errors in EPA’s analysis,” he said. “They came up with $238 billion in present value net social benefits. They made several errors, two of which I’ll mention. First, they assumed that companies that buy trucks are unable to rationally account for fuel economy in their purchase decisions. … Second, EPA estimated that the Phase 2 rule would $66 billion in U.S. wealth to other countries and they counted this wealth transfer as benefits to Americans. This is an elementary violation of cost-benefit analysis and when you take these two errors out alone, you end up with $26 billion net present cost for the Phase 2 rule.”

Belzer also said EPA did not analyze the incremental cost of banning gliders. “They didn’t show their work, and since they didn’t show their work, no one outside EPA can replicate it,” he said.

Belzer said that he doesn’t know how large a study needs to be done to determine glider kit impacts, but he knows “that 2 is not the optimal sample size,” referring to the NVFEL study.

 “I do know it could be done better and the right way to go about this is actually to collaborate on a test protocol, do the test together so everyone is in agreement that the tests are done accurately and correctly,” Belzer said.