CROSSVILLE, Tenn. – A new federal loophole is allowing truck body manufacturers Peterbilt, Freightliner and others to go in tandem to assemble “gliders”, as these trucks have been dubbed because they are manufactured without engines and are later retrofitted with the rebuilt ones.
These vehicles are cheaper to repair than modern emission compliant semi trucks and possibly enjoy higher mileage to the gallon of diesel. However, gliders have been shown to be far more polluting than the combined emissions of all Volkswagen diesel equipped with fraudulent emissions controls, and now bear responsibility for emissions of particles known to caused pulmonary diseases, including lung cancer. The problem is, their numbers are growing according to the last available data, going from fewer than 1000 in 2010 to around 10.000 sold in 2015.
The trucks have been on the market since at least the 1970s. But after standards that were first enacted during the Clinton administration and took full effect by 2010, gliders became a way for trucking companies to legally skirt the rules.
Under this legal peephole, gliders may be emitting nitrogen oxide gases, during highway driving, 43 times higher than trucks with updated emission control systems, according to an analysis by staff members at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA staff estimated that one year’s worth of glider sales released 13 times as much of the pollutant as all VW diesel equipped with the emissions-cheating software — and that was a scandal that resulted in a criminal case against the company and more than $4 billion in fines.
Partly based on a questionable study by Tennessee Technological University, Scott Pruit´s EPA went ahead exempting glider emissions. This loophole facilitates the polluting semi trucks to hit the road, also thanks to the financial support of the Fitzgerald family, which operates several dealerships selling the rebuilt semi trucks, and who paid the mentioned study. Additionally, Fitzgerald business entities, executives, and family members have contributed at least $225,000 to U.S. Rep. Diane Black´s campaign, a Republican who is running to be the state’s governor. The Obama administration had previously proposed to eliminate the loophole by enacting a stricter diesel emissions rule that was scheduled to take effect last month.
Tommy Fitzgerald, one Fitzgerald company owner, stood behind Ms. Black and Mr. Pruitt´s actions disputing these were good public policy and not special favors to his company.
“I don’t know why anyone would want to kill all these jobs,” He said, referring to the hundreds of employees working at his dealerships, many of them in rural areas. “It does not make any sense.”
Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Ms. Black, said the congresswoman had supported a constituent and was not acting as a result of the campaign donations, which he said complied with state law. “There are very few companies willing to try and keep manufacturing jobs in rural Tennessee today, and Diane fights hard to support the few that do,” He said.
An E.P.A. spokeswoman, Liz Bowman, said that Mr. Pruitt remained committed to protecting clean air. But, she said, he agreed with a legal argument made by Ms. Black and Fitzgerald that the agency did not have the authority to limit sales.