The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backed down from temporarily reversing Obama administration rules limiting the production of smog-belching glider trucks that carry pre-emission engines under the skin of new truck bodies.
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler late Thursday told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that a July 6 memo from the agency fell short of the “kind of extremely unusual circumstances” to support changing existing rules.
Gliders are new truck bodies and chassis equipped with remanufactured engines, transmissions and other older parts that produce more pollution than allowed by current regulations. They sell on average for about 25 percent less than a new truck.
The EPA planned to allow unlimited production of gliders, providing a way for motor carriers and truckers to skirt pollution regulations for new trucks. The regulations limit each manufacturer to production of 300 trucks this year. The plan drew strong criticism from environmental groups, the American Trucking Associations, and truck manufacturers, including Daimler Trucks North America, Volvo Group North America, and Navistar.
Previously, the EPA had said gliders emit far more nitrogen oxides and particulates than newer trucks that have smog-trapping filters.
However, the agency is still considering a roll back of rules it adopted with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2016.
The agency withdrew its action in part because its own guidance on when to exert “no action assurance” did not apply to the glider case, Wheeler said. The agency announced proposed rule changes to the Glider Rule in November 2017. Wheeler said the EPA would “move as expeditiously as possible” on revisions while balancing air quality impacts.
Responding to a legal challenge from the Environmental Defense Fund and two other green groups, the appeals court on July 18 temporarily blocked EPA from lifting the glider production cap. A similar suit by 16 states was combined with the first.
“This is a huge win for all Americans who care about clean air and human health,” EDF President Fred Krupp said in a news release. “These super-polluting diesel freight trucks fill our lungs with a toxic stew of pollution.”
In its July 6 “no action assurance” memo, the EPA expressed concern the glider limit would harm small businesses that make them.
D&B Trucks of Glasgow, Ky., expects to lay off 50 workers in coming months as it hits the 300-glider limit, President Dale Clark Jr. told Trucks.com. D&B has built about 280 gliders this year. It typically builds about 500 a year. The affected jobs pay $18 to $20 an hour.
“Without the repeal, we’re at the end of our rope,” Clark said. “We never really slowed down [building gliders] in the hopes of a repeal.”
D&B remanufactures engines from Caterpillar Inc. in London, Ky., and installs them with transmissions, rear axles and reworked parts into new Peterbilt and Kenworth bodies. It assembles gliders in Glasgow and Queen City, Texas.
Clark questioned whether gliders pollute more than newer trucks.
“I’ve been around diesel engines all my life. I am concerned about the environment. But do I believe the filters on the newer trucks take away all the particulates? That truck still has to burn off to get rid of those pollutants. I wonder how much that filter is letting out at that time,” he said.
But others say that the modern pollution control systems in new powertrains are less polluting.
Chester France, an EDF consultant and former EPA executive, said the particulate-collecting traps in new trucks “break down the particulates that cause unhealthy soot into less harmful components Traps are highly efficient and essentially eliminate particulate emissions compared to gliders.”
A group of state attorneys general said EPA’s 2017 testing showed NOx emissions “were as much as 43 times higher than emissions from compliant vehicles, and [particulate matter] emissions as much as 450 times higher.”
Those results are in some dispute. Several members of Congress have asked EPA to investigate the findings. They said the testing was done by EPA staffers without senior leadership knowledge and with help from Volvo and the Engine Manufacturers Association. Both oppose gliders as cheaper competition for new trucks. Volvo has denied any wrongdoing.
Any EPA moves to permanently lift the cap likely won’t happen fast enough to help glider makers avoid letting more workers go.
D&B and Fitzgerald Glider Kits of Byrdstown, Tenn., which built 3,000 glider kits in 2017, are lone voices against the environmental groups, states and the trucking industry. Fitzgerald deputy legal counsel Zachary Atkins said the company has conducted several rounds of layoffs and more furloughs may come.
D&B’s Clark said his business serves independent owner-operators unable to afford a new truck. He said the four-year, unlimited mileage warranties D&B offers on gliders exceed those on new trucks.
“We’re making it good for another five to seven years, so an owner-operator can keep going with it,” he said.