Update: EPA Reverses Course on Enforcement of Super Polluting Truck Standards; Proposal Remains Pending

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on July 26, 2018, issued a memo withdrawing the agency's formal promise to manufacturers not to enforce stricter pollution controls against diesel freight trucks known as “gliders,” which use older engines that emit high levels of air pollutants in a new truck body.  A court had already stayed the EPA action, called a "no action assurance," which was issued by former Administrator Scott Pruitt on the last day of his tenure.  Pruitt's letter had meant firms would not have to limit their annual production of glider trucks to 300 vehicles through the end of 2019.

Still pending is the agency's proposal to reopen a loophole in truck pollution standards for the high-emitting glider trucks.  The Wheeler memo states that the agency "shall continue to move as expeditiously as possible on a regulatory revision regarding the requirements that apply to the introduction of glider vehicles into commerce to the extent consistent with statutory requirements and due consideration of air quality impacts."  For more information, see The Washington Post.

Comment Closed January 5, 2017

Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0827

Docket information @ https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=EPA-HQ-OAR-2014-0827

Public hearing held December 4, 2017

Details about the Washington, D.C., hearing can be found at https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/regulations-greenhouse-gas-emissions-commercial-trucks

Save EPA submitted detailed comments to EPA on this proposal.
You can access our comments at Save EPA on Repeal of Emission Requirements for Glider Vehicles, Glider Engines,
and Glider Kits.

What’s at Risk, Talking Points and What You Can Do

The Trump Administration has proposed to reopen a loophole in truck pollution standards that had allowed companies to install old engines in new truck chassis without meeting modern pollution standards.   Old truck engines emit high large amounts of air pollutants linked to premature death, cancer, heart attacks, exacerbation of respiratory diseases such as asthma and other health problems.

The Truck Requirements in Jeopardy

EPA in October 2016 issued a clean trucks rule that included provisions closing a loophole that allowed dirty old polluting engines to be installed in a new truck shell.  These are called “glider trucks” because they combine a “glider kit” – which generally includes the tractor chassis, frame, front axle, brakes and cab – with a a previously owned power train, including the engine, transmission, and usually the rear axle.

Concern about high-emitting glider trucks, which are cheaper than entirely new trucks, rose sharply after EPA phased in updated pollution limits for new heavy-duty trucks between model years 2007 and 2010.  Because of a loophole, glider trucks did not have to meet the same pollution standards as entirely new trucks  — they had to meet the standards for the year of the used engine.  Glider trucks allow continued use of an otherwise usable engine when a chassis is irreparably damaged, and until recently only a few hundred glider vehicles were produced annually.  With the advent of stricter emission standards for heavy-duty diesel engines, however, glider vehicle sales mushroomed.  Glider sales rose approximately 10-fold relative to a few years before, EPA found.

Most glider trucks use very high-polluting pre-2002 diesel engines that emit 20 to 40 times more smog-forming nitrogen oxides and soot (particle pollution) at rates 20 to 40 times current engines, EPA said in 2015.  Put another way, 10,000 of these glider vehicles (a conservative estimate of current production) is the pollution equivalent of up to 400,000 new trucks.   Large particles create the puff of smelly black smoke engines that you hate to be stuck behind in traffic.

EPA in 2016 issued a rule closing the loophole by requiring that engines in glider trucks meet the same pollution limits as new engines, with limited exceptions for small businesses and allowances for traditional glider vehicle practices of preserving undamaged engines out of cracked chassis.  Compliance with most key provisions was required in 2017 or 2018.

The closing of the loophole was supported by truck and engine manufacturers such as Cummins, Volvo, Navistar (maker of the International Truck brand) who produce domestically, and invest in and sell cleaner freight trucks and engines.

The Trump Administration’s Rollback Proposal

Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule  on November 9, 2017, to restore the glider vehicle loophole, proposing an interpretation of Clean Air Act that would leave EPA without authority to regulate glider vehicles.

In the original rule, EPA dealt with the legal question in detail and explained how EPA the CAA does provide EPA with authority to regulate glider vehicles. Among other things, EPA has explicit authority to regulate rebuilt diesel engines — precisely the engines used in glider trucks.

In letters dated August 17, 2017, Administrator Pruitt granted petitions by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, Harrison Truck Centers Inc., and Indiana Phoenix Inc. that ask EPA to reconsider the glider provisions of the truck standards.

Suggested Talking Points

 Emissions and Health Impacts

Most glider trucks use pre-2002 engines that emit from 20 to 40 times as much smog-forming nitrogen oxides and soot (particle pollution) as today’s engines, according to a 2015 EPA report. (Source: Publication EPA-420-F-15-904, July 2015)

The resulting health toll, assuming 5,000 to 10,000 glider trucks, would include 350 to 1,600 early deaths for each year of production over the lifetimes of those vehicles, EPA estimated in 2016. Those figures are based on particle pollution alone and don’t account for the carcinogenic potential of diesel exhaust, the contribution of nitrogen oxides to ozone smog.  [Source: EPA Response to Comments (RTC), pp. 1877-78; RTC Appendix A, Table A-5, p. 1966.]

Particle pollution also is associated with myriad other health effects such as heart attacks, acute bronchitis, exacerbation of respiratory diseases such as asthma, hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Diesel particle pollution is reasonably anticipated to cause cancer in humans. [Source: Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program, 14th Annual Report on Carcinogens, November 3, 2016.]

Glider trucks generally should be required to meet the pollution limits that apply in the year of their assembly, so that they meet the same pollution standards as entirely new trucks made in the same year. That’s what EPA’s 2016 rule generally does.

In reconsidering the glider provisions, EPA should give no weight to the conclusions of glider-industry-funded research of glider truck emissions. The petitions provided no specific emissions testing results and did not identify which vehicles were tested, how they were tested, or which vehicles were used for comparison.  In addition, the testing was not sufficiently independent.  The research was conducted by Tennessee Tech University but was funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits – the biggest truck manufacturer challenging the rule -- and took place at a Fitzgerald facility -- according to a November 11, 2017, Washington Post story.

The same story noted that EPA staff were conducting their own testing, but that Administrator Pruitt signed the proposal before that testing was completed. The public should be allowed to see EPA’s test results and comment on the implications before EPA considers any change in glider truck requirements.

Fairness and Jobs

The glider truck loophole is unfair to manufacturers and dealers of entirely new trucks and new diesel engines. Unlike glider truck makers, these manufacturers have invested in and sell cleaner trucks to meet modern pollution standards. Glider trucks are cheaper in part because they don’t have the same air pollution controls.

More sales of dirty glider trucks results in fewer sales of entirely new trucks that meet modern pollution standards. Additional jobs in the glider truck industry come at the expense of jobs at companies making entirely new trucks.  Volvo and Cummins, among others, produce domestically.  Jobs at these entities are being diverted to the high-polluting glider manufacturers.

To avoid giving an unfair economic advantage to high-polluting glider truck makers, the federal government generally should require glider trucks to meet the same pollution standards as entirely new trucks, as is now required by EPA rule.

EPA’s 2016 rule includes flexibilities for small businesses and other special circumstances. Fitzgerald has said publicly that the company can be profitable at 300 glider vehicles with high-polluting engines per year, which is the 2018 cap level in EPA’s 2016 rule. (Source: EPA’s Response to Comment Document, p. 1881 and note 242)

Legal authority

The Clean Air Act section 202(a) gives EPA authority to regulate new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines, and rebuilt engines.

Glider trucks, including glider trucks marketed by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, have rebuilt engines. (Sources: 81 FR 73518 note 93, Response to Comments pp. 1879-1880)

Glider trucks are “new motor vehicles” in any case. Fitzgerald Glider Kits markets its glider vehicles as new trucks.  Adding a used component to an otherwise new vehicle doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that the vehicle must be considered used.  (For more, see EPA’s 2016 final rule at 81 FR 73512-15.)

What You Can Do

It would be great if well-reasoned, fact-based comments were enough to win the day, but in today’s deregulatory environment, raising the political stakes of regulatory rollbacks is crucial to stopping or slowing them down.  For rules that are particularly important to you, please consider taking one or more of the following steps, too.

  • Write to your members of Congress and other elected officials.  Let them know your concerns and ask them to weigh in on this rollback, and speak out in public. You can find contact information for your member of Congress and other elected officials at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.
  • Write letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers. Letters to the editor should be fairly brief.
  • Organize or participate in letter-writing campaigns.
  • Join or organize demonstrations.
  • Talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encourage them to comment and otherwise join in this effort.  Voicing your concerns on social media can be a very effective way to spread the word.

Links for More Information

EPA web page on proposed repeal.  https://www.epa.gov/regulations-emissions-vehicles-and-engines/proposed-rule-repeal-emission-requirements-glider

Environmental Defense Fund, Press Release, “EPA Proposes to Reopen Loophole for Super-Polluting Trucks,” November 9, 2017  https://www.edf.org/media/epa-proposes-reopen-loophole-super-polluting-trucks

Environmental Defense Fund, Fact Sheet, “Administrator Scott Pruitt Moves to Reopen a Massive Pollution Loophole.”  https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/content/trucking_industry_leaders_on_gliders.pdf

EPA/National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles— Phase 2,” October 25, 2016. (This is the Clean Trucks Standards rule that closed the glider truck loophole.)  https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-10-25/pdf/2016-21203.pdf

Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program, 14th Annual Report on Carcinogens, November 3, 2016.  https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/pubhealth/roc/index-1.html

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Save EPA has been an all-volunteer group of former EPA officials who became alarmed about the Trump agenda for EPA and joined together to fight it.

With newly-elected President-Elect Biden and VP-Elect Harris coming in January, the need to "save EPA" is much less urgent. This is not to imply all clear skies ahead - there is much re-building to do, there will be negative pressures on the new administration, and we will likely have policy differences in the future. However, we are hopeful that these differences will be discussed rationally, using science as a basis for moving forward, and keeping EPA's mission of protecting human health and the environment in the forefront.

And so, we are going back to retirement!  We're keeping our website up at http://saveepaalums.info/ , as a resource for those who want to follow and influence the restoration work. Our report on the Trump record at EPA describes the actions that need to be reversed [saveepaalums.info/Trump+era+report], and our guide to participating in the rulemaking process [http://saveepaalums.info/Resistance+Guide] can help you be part of the solution.

Thank you for your support and commitment during the past 3.5 years.  While the Trump assaults were unending, they were also frequently unsuccessful, and that was due in large part to public outrage.  Keep it up!  Although EPA will be in much better hands with a Biden administration, there is always a need for an informed and engaged public.