Gliders have been back in the news, with EPA movements and lawmakers coming out weighing on the issue of gliders. But first, what are they?
Glider kits are ways for small fleets and owner-operators to remove the major components from older, more dilapidated semi-trucks and put it into newer chassis that complies with modern safety regulations and guidelines. This provides aerodynamic benefits with motor trains that are pre-emission standards.
So, what’s the problem?
Lawmakers Weigh In
With the EPA taking a decidedly non-regulatory approach, many regulations that used to be enforced are now on the chopping block. Many legislators and Washington insiders have been expecting the EPA to axe the regulation capping the number of gliders a fleet can outfit annually.
In fact, two Democratic Senators sent a letter to the EPA in March asking him to reverse the proposal that was put out in November repealing air emission standards for glider kits. The specific regulation they singled out was the proposal to remove the standards from GHG Phase 2 rules.
Originally, the Phase 2 rules were only supposed to allow glider kits for the purposes of reclaiming powertrains from wrecked vehicles and reusing them in new bodies. The problem arose when motor carriers were using them instead to avoid repairs or upgrades to meet new emissions standards.
In their letter, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del) and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) referred to these vehicles as “zombie trucks.” They also cited potential adverse health effects and research that does not support what industry advocates call benefits of the technology.
The Perceived Cons
On the adverse side of the argument, the letter went on to note that internal agency research not published until after the rule was put to paper showed that a new 2017 glider kit can emit up to 450 times the pollution and 43 times the nitrous oxide of a model year 2015 or 2016 truck.
The senators pointed out that the EPA’s own research shows that unregulated glider kit emissions could prematurely kill people, cause cancer, various forms of lung and heart disease, and exacerbate asthma in both kids and adults.
Truck engine makers have come out strongly on the side of those opposing this rule, while Tennessee Technical University requested the EPA not use one of their studies in their attempt to justify the rule. The president of the university, Philip Oldham, specifically asked the EPA to withhold any reference to the study.
The study was titled “Environmental & Economic Study of Glider Kit Assemblers,” but it came under fire when it was uncovered the study was funded by a glider kit manufacturer. The manufacturer paid around $70,000 to finance the study and agreed they would build a new research center on the university’s campus.
According to a memo obtained from the interim dean of TTU’s College of Engineering, there were allegations of misconduct within the research. The memo specifically mentions that no engineering faculty members took part in putting together the final report.
What Proponents Say
On the other side of the argument, those who are in favor of unregulated glider kits point to several points of research, even if this research came from industry sources. They say there are perceived benefits, so in the spirit of fairness, we are going to take a look at those perceived benefits.
Believe it or not, advocates say there are environmental benefits to glider kits. They first point to steel, in saying that 4,000 pounds of steel are not cast each time a glider kit is used, which could result in tens of millions of pounds of un-casted steel each year. They go on to point out that up to 10% of the world’s carbon emissions are a direct result of steel casting.
They also point to the reuse of materials as creating a lower-cost and more sustainable environment. With a glider package coming in up to a quarter below the cost of a comparable new unit, many small trucking companies and owner-operators see the appeal in these packages.
The study that proponents pointed to – and the university disavowed – research points that apparently showed glider kit vehicles did not have a significant environmental impact when compared to modern, compliant vehicles. The proponents of glider kits also pointed out that it was unfair to label them as “new motor vehicles” and thus subject them to EPA regulations that govern new motor vehicles.
The Story Gets Deeper
One of the nagging problems with this story lies in the way the study used to bring forth the new rule was implemented. According to two Congressional letters, even the agency itself was influenced by industry advocates, with the one trucking OEM having leaned on agency employees regarding publication of the rule.
Apparently, that trucking OEM provided their own glider kits for testing and the testing was done outside of the agency’s leadership. The testing revealed that glider vehicle NOx was orders of magnitude higher than those of newer vehicles.
Now, in the latest news out of Washington, the EPA has forcefully stated it will not enforce the 300-unit production cap on 2018 and 2019 glider kits that do not comply with the Phase 2 GHG emissions roll out. The EPA cites certain emissions requirements in imposing the rules. They used an enforcement loophole to implement the new rule.
In responding to the outcry from environmental groups, Democratic senators, and others, EPA press secretary Molly Block stated that the agency only expected to repeal “certain elements” of the glider regulation. One of the things she pointed out was that the agency may choose to simply raise the cap, as opposed to scrapping the rule altogether. Small manufacturers may also be exempt from the rule, with the definition of a small manufacturer being as described by the Small Business Administration.
In July of 2017, in response to a petition from one of the largest glider kit manufacturers, the EPA announced that it was going to revisit the Phase 2 glider kit provisions. It was by November of last year that the EPA announced they would entirely repeal the glider kit, engine, and vehicle emission requirements. They announced the repeal merely two months before the 300-unit glider cap was set to take effect.
The text of the new rule states that the since the GHG Phase 2 requirements came into effect in January 2017 and were implemented in two waves, there is no reason why the second wave needs to be implemented. EPA spokesperson Block went on to say the agency took public consideration into account, but that they would have to evaluate a number of different factors before settling on a final proposal.
Interestingly, despite one OEM trying to influence the agency’s final decision making, a letter was released dates September 11 signed by executives from Volvo Group, Cummins, and Navistar that asked the agency to not revisit the rule. In their letter they referred to the use of glider kits as a way of circumventing the purchase of new, modern, compliant powertrains.
This should not be entirely surprising considering this was already the position of the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and the Truck Rental and Leasing Association – all of whom supported continuing to implement Phase 2 as written. Many companies and associations have been preparing for this for some time. Changing the game mid-stream causes supply chain and implementation problems.
Still, as Block stated in her statement, the agency plans on utilizing these interim steps and decline enforcement of the final rule. They have also mentioned potentially extending the compliance date to December 31, 2019. Since the agency is choosing not to exercise its enforcement discretion in 2018 and 2019, glider manufacturers will be able to produce as many glider kits as they did during their biggest production year between 2010 and 2014.
How Will This All Play Out?
With EPA head Scott Pruitt having resigned, many are wondering what the next steps will be. Despite Democratic lawmakers and others raising the red flag over the change, they have little power to enforce the outcome of this debate.
With a new EPA administrator who may carry the legacy of less regulation and more benefit of the doubt given to OEMs and businesses, it is likely we will not see much major deviation from this path, at least in the short term. Whether or not a change on Capitol Hill changes that paradigm remains to be seen.
Will President Trump sign any legislation that brings back regulations cast away by the EPA, or will he choose to make broader deals? Until we see this play out on the larger stage, anyone’s guess is game.