Lawmakers ask EPA for documents related to glider kit study

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Updated Sep 5, 2018

Seven members of the U.S. House have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to provide them with “all documents and communication” related to a late 2017 study used to promote regulating emissions of glider kit trucks.

The request appears to be the beginning of a probe by Congress into alleged improper contact between EPA staffers and employees at Volvo Trucks. Volvo, which owns Mack, has lobbied against the repeal of the glider emissions restrictions, as have Cummins and Daimler.

The July 12 letter from the lawmakers is the latest in a saga over whether the EPA should cap the number of trucks glider kit builders can make and sell annually. The glider industry, led by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, says the emissions regulations could severely harm their businesses. The glider kit segment has seen burgeoning sales, especially among smaller fleets and owner-operators, since the 2008 round of tighter emissions regulations for manufacturers of new trucks and engines.

Glider kits, in contrast, were exempt from major emissions regulations enacted in 2008 and 2014, as those rules applied only to new engines. Glider kits are new truck bodies and chassis equipped with older, remanufactured engines and transmissions.

2016’s Phase 2 rule sought to stamp out the growth of the glider kit segment. EPA officials told Overdrive in 2016 that glider increasingly accounted for a major share of emissions from new truck sales.

The issue is settled short-term, as the EPA said that it will, at least through the end of 2019, not enforce the Obama-era regulations, which capped glider makers at building 300 trucks a year (Editor’s note: The EPA later retracted this policy and will enforce the 300-truck cap until a rule has been finalized lifting that limit). The EPA also has a rule in the works to more permanently exempt glider builders from the Obama-era Phase 2 emissions regulations. That rule has not yet been made final.

At the same time the agency was working on the proposal to rescind the 2016 glider kit regulations, the EPA also was conducting a study to compare emissions output from glider kit trucks to new vehicles operating under 2014 emissions standards. The study concluded glider kits did produce greater emissions of greenhouse gases and particulate matter. Concerns were later raised about the study and its conclusions, due to alleged contact between EPA staffers and Volvo employees.

Five members of the House in June wrote the EPA asking the agency’s Inspector General to investigate the claims. Two others also signed the July 12 letter asking for the EPA to submit the requested documents and communication.

Signatories of the July 12 letter are Reps. Brian Babin (R-Texas), Gary Palmer (R-Alabama), Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Bill Posey (R-Florida), Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana) and Ralph Abraham (R-Louisiana).

A separate ethical cloud hangs over the matter following a competing study on glider kits, commissioned by Fitzgerald and performed by Tennessee Tech University. That study found that glider kits do not produce greater emissions than new trucks. TTU told EPA to disregard its study while the school investigates questions regarding its efficacy.

Volvo in June told Overdrive that the company did nothing unethical or illegal regarding the EPA study. “Like most of the trucking industry, the Volvo Group for several years now 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. 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,” Volvo said in a statement.

Volvo and Mack do not offer truck bodies for use as gliders. Most gliders are Paccar brands, Peterbilt and Kenworth, or Daimler brands, Freightliner and Western Star.

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