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EPA glider truck probes delayed until late summer

 Photo Credit:  Robert Balda /flickr
Photo Credit: Robert Balda /flickr

Investigations into glider truck kit regulations initially expected to be completed in early 2019 will not be ready until later in the summer, FreightWaves has learned.

Results of the inquiries could determine the extent to which glider kits are federally regulated, with millions of dollars in investment on the line for glider kit manufacturers that provide the revamped trucks for independent truck operators.

A source at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (EPA OIG), which is conducting two related audits at the request of Capitol Hill lawmakers, said that the five-week government shutdown in December and January was a significant factor in the delay.

“When the government opened, we couldn’t just jump back in where we left off, it was a very slow start and took a while for things to get rolling again,” the source told FreightWaves. In addition, OIG projects can take longer than expected merely as a result of the information collection process. “We can only estimate the new timing, which is now more likely sometime in August,” the source said.

Glider kits – remanufactured engines combined with new cabs and chassis frames – can be 25 percent 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 EPA’s 2016 Phase 2 emissions standards, an Obama-era regulation that went into effect on January 1, 2018, capped the manufacture of glider kits at 300. But in 2017, President Trump’s EPA, under then-administrator Scott Pruitt, proposed a repeal of the Phase 2 glider provisions in a proposed rulemaking. The rulemaking was reviewed and initially approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and issued for public comment in November 2017. FreightWaves confirmed that the EPA has not yet provided to OMB a draft final rulemaking for review, thus the 300-kit limit has continued to stay in effect.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle last year pressured the EPA OIG to weigh in on two issues related to regulation – the results of an “anti-glider kit” study in which Volvo [SS: VOLVB], which competes with companies manufacturing glider kits and which lobbied against the repeal, attempted to collaborate with EPA to influence the study’s outcome. Volvo denied doing anything improper. The EPA OIG announced in September 2018 that it was conducting an audit of EPA’s testing procedures.

The second investigation, taken up by the OIG in December 2018 at the request of Senate Democrats, seeks to expand that audit to determine the legality of Pruitt’s original proposed rulemaking seeking to repeal the regulation.

Senators Tom Carper (D-Delaware) and Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) asked the OIG to include an investigation into a pro-glider vehicle study by Tennessee Technological University that Pruitt used to support his repeal – the results of which Tennessee Tech has since acknowledged were not accurate.

Carper and Udall also want the OIG 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 to check 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. That decision was subsequently reversed by Andrew Wheeler, Pruitt’s replacement.

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.