That’s the consensus of more than 60 speakers from groups that testified at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing Monday to debate a potential loophole that would allow remanufactuered trucks – gliders – to stay on the roads. Participants included Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Group and the Union of Concerned Scientists
All but two speakers – from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and D & B Truck and Equipment Sales – opposed the agency’s proposed rule that would repeal the emissions requirement.
A glider kit consists of a chassis, frame, cab and front axle, which are combined with a refurbished powertrain, including a remanufactured engine, transmission and rear axle from an older truck. Once assembled, they are called glider vehicles or gliders. Truckers can purchase gliders for approximately 25 percent less than the cost of a new truck.
The hearing comes just weeks after the EPA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that said under the Trump’s administration’s current interpretation of the Clean Air Act, or CAA, glider vehicles would not be considered “new motor vehicles.”
The agency also said remanufactured engines would not constitute “new motor vehicle engines” and glider kits would not be defined as “incomplete” new motor vehicles.
EPA’s decision to reopen the Phase 2 rule for gliders “is a step in the wrong direction,” said Pat Quinn, executive director of the Heavy-Duty Leadership Group, whose members include Cummins, PepsiCo, FedEx, Eaton, Wabash National Corporation and Waste Management.
“These companies have made significant investments in sophisticated technology to reduce nitrogen oxide and particulate matter to meet the Phase 2 standards,” Quinn told Trucks.com.
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.
The agency has launched a 30-day comment period that ends on Jan. 5.
While an overwhelming majority opposed changing the rule at the hearing, it may not be enough to sway EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision.
“It will be extremely difficult for the agency to reverse course based on their prior position,” Glen Kedzie, environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations, told Trucks.com. The ATA opposes EPA’s efforts to change the Phase 2 rule.
The rulemaking process typically takes a year or more, but the Trump administration wants to issue a final rule by late spring, he said.
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.
“This matter will most certainly end up before the courts in deciding the path forward,” Kedzie said.
The trucking industry trade group, OOIDA, which represents more than 150,000 small-business truckers, praised EPA’s review of the glider rule.
“While glider kits provide appealing cost savings for drivers, they are also reliable, efficient and meet all of the required environmental and safety standards necessary for operation,” said Nile Elam, director of legislative affairs, at OOIDA.
Farrell “Dale” Clark Jr., president of D & B Trucks, testified for the proposed rule. He was the only representative from the glider industry to speak out, which he said surprised him. D&B Trucks builds approximately 500 custom gliders annually. He also has a fleet of six trucks, which are all gliders.
“If the Phase 2 rule stays in place and does not get repealed, in 2020, we are out of business,” Clark told Trucks.com. “We won’t be able to build any more glider kits, which is our primary business.”
D & B Trucks, which employs approximately 100 people, is headquartered in Glasgow, Ky., and has a second location in Queens City, Texas.
The largest glider assembler in the U.S., Fitzgerald Glider Kits of Byrdstown, Tenn., which produces about 2,000 gliders annually, was not at the hearing. They were, however, one of three glider assemblers that submitted a petition for reconsideration to Pruitt in July.
Public health, environmental groups and state regulatory agencies were against the proposed rule.
A rollback of the glider kit provision “would expose U.S. citizens to an additional 1.5 million tons of NOx and 16,000 tons of [diesel] particulate matter emissions, equivalent to more than $12 billion in health damages over the next decade,” said Rachel Muncrief, heavy-duty program director for the International Council on Clean Transportation.
The adoption of clean diesel technology “would be slowed if the current requirements regarding glider vehicles were changed,” according to the Diesel Technology Forum, an organization that promotes the importance of clean diesel engines, fuel and technology.
Of the nearly 3 million heavy-duty commercial trucks on the road from 2011 through 2016 are powered by the latest generation of clean diesel engines, the organization said.
“These trucks have delivered important benefits in the form of cleaner air, fewer carbon dioxide emissions and dramatic fuel savings,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum.
These cleaner burning trucks have saved 4.2 billion gallons of diesel fuel and have reduced 43 million tons of carbon dioxide, 21 million tons of nitrogen oxides and 1.2 million tons of particulate matter, Schaeffer said.
Environmental groups also cited previous research by the EPA that particulate matter pollution from one year’s production of glider trucks “could cause 1,600 premature deaths” because they emit “20 to 40 times more pollution” than new trucks.
“Decades of clean air progress stand to be reversed if the U.S. EPA opts to repeal its rule on limiting production of glider kits,” said Steve Cliff, deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board.
Gliders represent about 5 percent of the total number of trucks on the road.
If the loophole is reinstated, glider sales will again start to grow because “gliders can be marketed as a cheap, though dirty, unsafe and higher fuel cost, alternative to new trucks,” said David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis for the Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.
The EPA’s proposed rulemaking does not include a regulatory impact study or a cost-benefit analysis, which is “quite unusual,” Quinn said. He formerly worked as a political appointee at the EPA for more than six years during President Ronald Reagan’s second term and President George H.W. Bush’s first term.
“It’s not clear why the administrator thinks this is a really good idea,” Quinn said.
Monday’s testimony opposing changes to the current rule may not be enough to change Pruitt’s decision, he said. “I would be surprised if the decision were reversed.”