EPA boss encourages production of dirty diesel gliders, report says

Gliders -- new heavy-duty trucks with old, rebuilt engines -- can emit 44 to 50 times more pollutants than the new legal limit. And the EPA head is OK with that.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
3 min read
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How incredulous would you be if we told you that there was an Environmental Protection Agency loophole that allowed the production of heavy diesel trucks that polluted at a rate of well over 40 times the legal limit?

How baffling would it be to find out that one year's worth of sales of these "glider" trucks would produce 13 times more harmful emissions than every Volkswagen involved in the Dieselgate scandal, for which VW was fined billions of dollars, and that the federal government was actively encouraging their production?

Well, engage your bafflers and set your incredulators to maximum, because according to a story in the New York Times, this is precisely what is happening, thanks to a company called Fitzgerald, Tennessee Tech University and EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

Haulage Trucks, USA
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Haulage Trucks, USA

Many of the glider kits that Fitzgerald sells are based on Peterbilt's 579 chassis.

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What is a "glider" truck and why does it get all kinds of special federal emissions exemptions? In simplified terms, a glider is a new heavy-duty truck that comes out of the factory without an engine or a transmission. These are purchased by companies like Fitzgerald, which then takes older-model, remanufactured and rebuilt engines and installs them into the new chassis.

Why would anyone want an old engine in a new truck? Because new heavy diesel engines are subject to stringent emissions regulations that put strict caps on the amount of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter (both of which are known to cause significant health problems to humans) that they can put into the atmosphere. Old engines aren't subject to these new regulations, thanks to a program that was initially envisioned as a means of saving money and keeping crashed truck parts out of junkyards.

Apart from the emissions loophole, why would a truck owner want to run a glider in his or her business as opposed to a brand new truck? Costs, primarily. Many older truck engines sans emissions devices are capable of producing more power and torque while using less diesel fuel, which provides significant cost savings to fleets. Modern trucks are also equipped with electronic log books that can force drivers to stop and take breaks if they've been driving for too long, which can throw off the delicate timetables on which trucking companies rely.

Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Scott Pruitt To Become EPA Administrator
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Senate Holds Confirmation Hearing For Scott Pruitt To Become EPA Administrator

Scott Pruitt is currently in the process of deciding whether to completely de-restrict the glider truck industry.

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

How is this loophole even a thing? Well, our previous presidential administration attempted to cap the number of glider trucks that a company would be allowed to produce at just 300 trucks per year. Unfortunately, that cap fell by the wayside when the current administration took over, and it would seem that Fitzgerald, the company best known for outfitting these gliders, has invested in a political lobbyist to advance its agenda.

Furthermore, Fitzgerald has financed research by (and a new building for) Tennessee Tech University. This research claims that not only do gliders not have a significant an impact on air pollution, but that they may be cleaner than new trucks with modern emissions control devices. Unsurprisingly, this research has been called into question by just about everyone, including faculty and administration at Tennessee Tech.

While it's tough to not get overtly political covering topics like this one, the fact is that air quality affects everyone. The EPA has estimated that for every 10,000 trucks operating over their full service life without emissions controls, 1,600 Americans will die prematurely and many thousands more will suffer from severe respiratory ailments. The public comment period for the EPA's decision making process on gliders has closed, so it looks like our lungs are in Scott Pruitt's hands now.