The Environmental Defense Fund and other green groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency in federal appeals court to overturn a decision allowing unlimited production of new trucks with rebuilt engines made before pollution rules for new truck engines were in place.
The motion filed Tuesday in the U.S Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. followed a letter last week from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra threatening “any and all legal action to ensure that EPA follows its own rules.” He led a coalition of attorneys general from 13 states and state environmental agencies in Pennsylvania and California.
The memo lifting the production cap on so-called gliders was first reported by the New York Times on July 6, a day after Scott Pruitt resigned as EPA Administrator. It looks to be a precursor to the agency’s rewriting of rules for so-called glider trucks that were toughened in the 2016 Phase 2 heavy-truck greenhouse gas emissions rule.
“Giving super-polluting freight trucks a free pass to pollute will put Americans’ health and lives at risk,” said EDF Senior Attorney Martha Roberts. “Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is continuing Scott Pruitt’s decision to short-change public health without any public input or regard for the law.”
Michelle Robinson, director of the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Trucks.com: “It’s a very unfortunate decision that flouts the EPA’s own science and its own analysis that these trucks can result in 1,600 premature deaths every year.”
In November 2017, the EPA suggested repeal of certain emission rules to allow small manufacturers to build more glider kits. The EPA action this month means it would not enforce limits on glider kits this year and in 2019. The agency has said that it might extend the rollback until a final rule is in place.
A glider kit consists of a chassis, frame, cab and front axle. It is combined with a refurbished powertrain, including a remanufactured engine, transmission and rear axle from an older truck. Truckers can purchase gliders for about 25 percent less than the price of a new truck.
The EPA’s 2016 Glider Rule limited the number of gliders to 300 per maker this year. Emissions-compliant certification was required for certain gliders for the model year they were built.
The rule is designed to allow truckers the flexibility to reuse engines from rigs that were crashed or no longer work but also prevent the creation of a large marketplace for highly polluting trucks.
Before 2016, glider makers could avoid regulations that applied to an entirely new truck.
“Trucks rebuilt with glider kits cause environmental damage far beyond their number and will remain illegal in California unless they can meet state standards,” said Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board.
Fitzgerald Glider Kits, based in Byrdstown, Tenn., is the largest maker of gliders. In 2017, it built approximately 3,000 Peterbilt, Kenworth, Freightliner and Western Star Glider Kits with pre-emission Detroit, Cummins and Caterpillar engine options.
“We hope to assemble more than 300 gliders in 2018 and 2019,” Fitzgerald deputy general counsel Zachary Atkins told Trucks.com. “But it’s too early to predict.” He cited the Glider Rule for several rounds of recent layoffs at the company.
Privately held Fitzgerald did not speak at a December 2017 EPA public hearing where more than 60 opponents to rule changes from industry, associations and environmental groups recommended keeping the 2016 rules in place. Only the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and glider maker D & B Trucks of Queen City, Texas, spoke in favor of loosened regulations.
Several large truck manufacturers want to see limits on gliders enforced.
“Volvo Group for several years has argued that the improper use of glider kits is bad for the environment and unfair to manufacturers who have invested in the latest environmental controls,” said John Mies, a spokesman for truck manufacturer Volvo Group North America.
Daimler Trucks North America, the owner of the Freightliner brand, also wants to see the current rule limiting the number of gliders enforced.
“We are not changing our position. We are living up to the spirit of how the glider rule was defined” in the greenhouse gas regulations, said Stefan Kurschner, senior vice president, aftermarket, for Daimler Trucks North America.
Navistar International Corp., which supports the 2016 EPA Glider Rule, said it was a compromise that allows glider manufacturers a way to eliminate overuse of older engines without undermining pollution rules. “The proposed rule change would have a detrimental impact on the environment and on new truck sales,” spokeswoman Lyndi McMillan said.
Volvo has been criticized by congressional Republicans who allege that it unduly influenced a 2017 EPA glider pollution study. A group of legislators has asked Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to investigate. The study compared gliders with conventionally built trucks. It found nitrogen oxides, or NOx, levels four to 40 times greater than current powertrains. Smog-forming particulate levels were 50 to 450 times higher.
“All our communication and cooperation with the EPA on this issue has been an entirely appropriate part of a broad trucking industry advocacy effort — we did nothing improper,” Mies said.
There’s also controversy with another study that came to an opposite conclusion.
Fitzgerald was among petitioners to EPA last year to rewrite the 2016 greenhouse gas rules for glider makers. It also funded a Tennessee Tech University study that found gliders do not pollute any more than heavy trucks with newer engines.
But that study’s methodology and accuracy are under investigation by Tennessee Tech following a complaint about the research from a professor. The school asked the EPA and others to refrain from citing its findings until the investigation is complete.