An Environmental Protection Agency plan to ease new emissions rules for part of the trucking business has set off a fight within the industry.
The EPA wants to repeal Obama administration regulations that govern so-called gliders. These vehicles are heavy-duty trucks built from new and remanufactured parts.
Truckers purchase gliders because they cost about 25 percent less than a new $150,000 semi-tractor.
Truck and engine manufacturers Volvo, Mack, Navistar and Cummins object. They asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a Sept. 11 letter not to change the Greenhouse Gas Emissions, or GHG, Phase 2 rule.
The companies are investing millions of dollars into new technology to control emissions in trucks in the U.S. and globally and don’t want their investment undercut.
The regulation will “curtail the rapidly growing practice of installing outdated emissions controls into what are otherwise new vehicles,” said John Mies, spokesman for the Volvo and Mack brands.
The current rule will be phased in by 2027. It was reached through lengthy negotiations between regulators and the trucking industry. The regulation limits emissions such as particulate matter and smog-forming nitrogen oxide, NOx, from diesel trucks and buses.
The rule would phase out the practice by glider manufacturers of building vehicles with engines that don’t meet current EPA requirements starting in January. New engines must have special fluids and filters that reduce particulate emissions and nitrogen oxides.
“It represents a compromise that allows customers who need to utilize gliders the continued option without undermining the goals of the rules,” said Jason Quaranto, director of government relations at Navistar.
The Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, the American Trucking Associations and the Truck Rental and Leasing Association also object to changes in the Phase 2 rule.
Truck manufacturers Daimler Trucks of North America and Paccar Inc. declined to talk about the proposed change with Trucks.com. Both companies produce glider kits. Daimler owns the Freightliner and Western Star truck brands. Paccar builds Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks.
The EPA estimates that approximately 10,000 glider kits are produced annually. The industry sold about 250,000 new long-haul big rigs in the U.S. last year.
“Gliders represent a small percentage of trucks on the road each year, so I wonder why they [EPA and truck manufacturers] chose to pick on this industry,” said Dustin Petersen, one of the owners of Harrison Truck Centers.
The Waterloo, Iowa, glider manufacturer is one of the companies that asked the EPA to ease the rule. Harrison Truck Centers has seven locations in Iowa and Minnesota and produces 700 to 800 gliders per year.
Petersen said enactment of the current regulations would be “devastating” to his company.
There also are environmental benefits from recycling existing equipment and engines and restoring them to new specifications, Petersen said. “We have spent a lot of money in research and development and production to come up with a clean and green solution for a niche group of people who purchase our trucks,” he said.
The glider industry grew from truckers wanting to save money by equipping a wrecked or worn-out truck with a new cab and chassis, using a rebuilt engine.
“You take your existing componentry and move it over to a new chassis, and the overall cost is significantly less than buying a new truck. This becomes a huge incentive for small-business truckers,” said Joe Rajkovacz, spokesman for the Western States Trucking Association.
But others say the industry’s use of engines that don’t require new EPA technology aimed at reducing emissions has created a loophole.
“Some truckers are choosing to use older engine technology that doesn’t have the same emissions content that new vehicles have,” said Kenny Vieth, president of ACT Research. “I think the people most disappointed by this would be competing truckers who are playing by the rules and who aren’t trying to cheat the system.”
Changing the regulation will eliminate “any hope of a level playing field and the regulatory certainty that companies rely on,” said Carol Lee Rawn, director of the transportation program at Ceres, a nonprofit group of businesses active in environmental issues.
It will also hurt public health, she said.
The EPA gave notice of its plan to change the rules in the Federal Register on Nov. 16.
The agency said that under the Trump administration’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act, glider vehicles would not be considered new motor vehicles. Remanufactured engines would not constitute new motor vehicle engines. Glider kits would not be defined as incomplete new motor vehicles.
That set in motion a plan to change the regulation. The EPA will host a public hearing on the change Dec. 4. It also will launch a 30-day comment period that ends Jan. 5.
The agency must also provide scientific data, expert opinions and facts to back its case for repealing the glider provision.
The rulemaking process typically takes a year or more, said Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations. However, the Trump administration wants to issue a final rule by late spring.
“This is an unprecedented timeframe, but the current administration has been fast-tracking many things,” Kedzie said. “Maybe it’s because the agency only has to review one piece of the Phase 2 rule instead of the entire 1,700-page rulemaking.”
Once the final rule is published in the Federal Register, proponents and opponents of the rule will have 60 days to file a legal challenge.
That’s likely to happen regardless of whether there is a change.
“I expect legal challenges to be filed,” Kedzie said.
Environmental groups or state emissions regulators could litigate to prevent any change from being enacted, he said. Alternately, glider companies could file a lawsuit if they aren’t exempted from the regulation, he said.