Hearing on truck emissions devolves into ideological spat

Source: Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, September 14, 2018

A House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing yesterday on high-emission trucks devolved into a war of opposing ideologies.

On one side: the Republican majority and small truck companies who say EPA regulations on the high-emission trucks — known as glider kits — are too costly and burdensome.

On the other side: Democrats and public health experts who say glider kits emit dangerously high levels of criteria pollutants, leading to poor air quality and adverse health effects.

Glider kits are new truck cabs with old diesel engines that don’t meet modern emission controls. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed repealing standards for gliders last fall.

GOP members of the panel raised concerns about an EPA study that could undermine the proposed rollback, which small truck companies want.

The study was conducted at the National Vehicle Fuel Emissions Laboratory (NVFEL) in Ann Arbor, Mich. It found the emissions of gliders were 43 to 55 times higher than those of trucks with modern pollution controls.

But Republican lawmakers accused Volvo Group, a truck manufacturer in competition with the glider industry, of unduly influencing those results.

Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Steve Milloy, a former Trump EPA transition official and a skeptic of man-made climate change, show that Volvo supplied gliders for testing purposes and communicated with EPA staffers over the course of the study.

“It turns out that Volvo, which had previously supported efforts to increase glider regulation, began secretly working with the NVFEL in September of 2017 to conduct this study,” said Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.).

Democrats on the panel, however, defended the integrity of the EPA study. They noted that air chief Bill Wehrum sent a letter to the committee last month stating that the testing was not politically motivated (Greenwire, Aug. 24).

Instead, Democrats sought to raise concern about another study on gliders conducted by Tennessee Tech University. The study, which was funded by glider kit assembler Fitzgerald Peterbilt, found that gliders are cleaner and more efficient than new rigs.

But the principal researcher at Tennessee Tech has since disavowed the study and returned the $70,000 he was paid by Fitzgerald. The president of Tennessee Tech has also notified EPA that the study is now the subject of an internal misconduct investigation.

“It’s very important to note that the Tennessee Tech study is currently undergoing an internal research misconduct investigation,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Subcommittee on Environment.

Bonamici also lamented that EPA officials weren’t present at the hearing.

“When preparing for this hearing, minority staff reached out to the EPA to receive a briefing on the agency’s glider emissions study under discussion today,” she said.

“The EPA told the staff that the request would not be granted,” Bonamici said. “We are being throttled from conducting legitimate oversight not only by the majority but also by this administration.”

Protecting small businesses vs. the environment

The majority tapped Collin Long, director of government affairs with the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, to testify that glider kit regulations are overly burdensome for small truck manufacturers.

“Too often, Washington pursues regulations with little regard for the practical implications or understanding of how they will affect our members,” Long said. “The current discussion surrounding glider kits perfectly encapsulates this problem.”

Since 2002, federal emission standards have increased the cost of new trucks between $50,000 and $70,000, Long said. Companies can manage their costs by purchasing glider kits, which are about 25 percent less expensive than new trucks, he said.

But Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who owns several car dealerships in Northern Virginia, challenged this assertion.

“I am a small-business person myself, so I’m sympathetic to the challenges that small businesses face,” Beyer said. “But our clean air and public health should not be jeopardized in order to protect any business, large or small.”

The minority witness, Paul Miller, an advocate with the group Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, said communities cannot address their ozone problem without tackling emissions from diesel exhaust.

“Diesel exhaust is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths, hospital admissions and lost school days in the U.S. annually,” Miller said. “EPA considers diesel exhaust a likely human carcinogen when inhaled.”

The proposed repeal of the glider kit rule remains stuck in regulatory limbo after the White House Office of Management and Budget asked EPA to submit a regulatory impact analysis, which was missing from the original proposal.

It remains to be seen whether acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler will continue to move forward with Pruitt’s proposal. While viewed as more careful than Pruitt, Wheeler has largely followed Pruitt’s deregulatory playbook since assuming the agency’s helm July 7.