NewsTruckingTrucking Regulation

Watchdog agency clears EPA’s glider truck testing practices

Testing by federal regulators in 2017 that found air pollution from glider kits to be “many times” the level generated by new heavy-duty truck engines complied with approved standards, a government watchdog agency has concluded.

A July 31 audit conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (EPA OIG) also confirmed that EPA staff have not been directed to work on a 2017 proposed rule that would have exempted glider trucks from stricter Phase 2 emissions requirements. That means that a 300-truck per manufacturer cap on glider kits remains in place.

Glider kits are a way for truck owners to buy a new truck with a remanufactured engine, often at a significant discount from a new truck and engine combination.

The OIG audit was conducted at the request of Republican lawmakers. Last year they questioned EPA’s testing processes at its National Vehicle and Fuels Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which were used in a 2017 EPA study on glider truck emissions. Opponents of the study, which found air emissions from gliders to be 43 to 55 times those of trucks with modern emission controls, also argued that Volvo [CXE: VOLVB.S.IX] had influenced the findings. Volvo and other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have supported tighter emissions controls after years of investing in clean-engine technology.

Both EPA and Volvo were cleared in the OIG’s audit. “The EPA complied with standard practices and relevant policies and procedures covering objectivity and integrity in planning and conducting its testing of glider vehicles in 2017,” according to the audit.

The OIG concluded that employees within EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality (OTAQ) had received the required testing approvals and followed normal procedures in submitting the glider testing report. “The OIG also did not identify ethics violations within the scope of our audit by a former OTAQ Center Director.”

The audit did find minor issues with how EPA exercised its “donation acceptance authority” when officials there acquired the trucks used for its study. The OIG recommended that EPA officials evaluate whether it needs to develop further guidance or policies on accepting donated property.

The audit marks the latest development in a long-running controversy over how much glider kits pollute. Because the kits can be roughly 25 percent less costly than new truck cabs, they are in high demand by independent fleet operators from manufacturers such as Crossville, Tennessee-based Fitzgerald Glider Kits.

Fitzgerald commissioned a study conducted by Tennessee Technological University (Tennessee Tech) in 2017 that found glider engines do not pollute any more than modern OEM systems. The Tennessee Tech study was then used to lobby on behalf of a measure that allows rebuilt diesel engines to be exempt from the Obama-era emissions rules.

But university faculty questioned the pro-glider kit study, in particular the relationship between Fitzgerald and the university, calling it a conflict of interest. In late 2018, Tennessee Tech acknowledged that the results of its glider kit study were inaccurate.

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.