Glider Kit Controversy Pits Businesses Against Environment
April 26, 2022 by FreightCenter
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, put emissions standards in place to control the diffusion of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide from heavy-duty trucks. The trucking industry soon realized a potential workaround for these regulations: glider kits.
The glider kit industry has been around for nearly 50 years but until recently it had never been embroiled in controversy. Now the glider kit controversy becomes the centerpiece in a battle of interpretation and redefinitions across two different presidential administrations. One that ultimately finds businesses and environmentalists on opposing sides.
What Are Glider Kits
Glider kits combine a new cab and truck body with a refurbished engine and powertrain component. After assembly, they can be purchased for a quarter less than a brand new truck, which makes them popular amongst independent haulers and small to midsize business (SMB) owners for their cost-effectiveness.
Why the Popularity of Glider Kits is on the Rise
In 2010, the EPA enacted stricter regulations regarding pollutants like nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, which are common in diesel engines. Trucks must comply with emissions standards urging new trucks to come with diesel particulate filters to capture diesel particulate matter (PM), as well as reduction systems that would cut NOx emissions.
Glider kits with drive trains predating 2010 didn’t have to comply with these new emissions standards as they didn’t qualify as “new motor vehicles.”
The glider kit industry suddenly saw a boom in popularity.
Obama Administration Cracks Down on Glider Kit Production
The rise in glider kit purchases was eventually noticed. The Obama EPA blocked this loophole in 2015, and the definitions were reworded again to fit glider kits under the regulatory umbrella.
The new regulation also put a cap on the number of glider kits that a single company could make a year: 300, with about 10,000 total made annually to reduce the number of them that took to the roads. As a result of the new regulation, the glider kit industry, and the jobs it maintains, would inevitably shrink.
Trump Administration Rollback on Obama Era EPA Decision
The Trump EPA responded to prompting from concerned parties in the glider kit industry with revisions that redrew the lines of its definition yet again. Final approval of the revised definitions and interpretations is due in late spring of 2018.
Under the Trump EPA, terms like “new motor vehicle engines”, “new motor vehicle”, and “incomplete” new motor vehicles would not apply to glider trucks. They explained that the language in the Clean Air Act was not “relevant statutory language”—it was misinterpreted.
According to the Trump EPA, glider vehicles are comprised of both new and refurbished parts, meaning they are no longer “incomplete” new motor vehicles. Since the kit itself lacks a powertrain it cannot be explicitly defined as a “motor vehicle.”
This is good news for the glider kit industry as the proposal includes a rollback on the cap of glider kits being made. This would benefit the glider industry, and many manufacturers and small businesses will see an increase in sales and a boost in the workforce. It will also be a boon to independent truck drivers, for whom glider kits are an affordable option—therefore a more viable solution—than a new truck.
These are all desirable outcomes for small to midsize businesses and independent truckers. Unfortunately, there is also a darker side.
The boost in glider kit production will negatively impact the environment. While gliders only make up around 5% of the Class 8 truck market, the Obama EPA previously stated that glider vehicles account for one-third of all nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions in the trucking sector.
The spread of particulate matter increases rates of cancer, asthma, risk of premature death, and other health hazards, putting disadvantaged communities—many of which rely on the trucking industry—in the most danger of exposure to these toxic pollutants.
The Study at the Center of the Controversy
When the case was being made for this rollback, a study written by Tennessee Technological University on glider kit emissions was specifically cited to help underscore the claims made by the Trump EPA. The study stated that glider vehicles emit pollutants at the same level (or less) as new heavy freight vehicles. Glider kits, it claimed, are just as clean as the engines in new vehicles.
The paper and the head of Tennessee Tech attracted criticism within days of its debut, with conflicting studies brought forward in direct opposition to Tennessee Tech’s research—including those that stated federal estimates made by the EPA placed gliders at exuding 40 to 55 times the pollutants of newer trucks.
The study used to lobby in favor of the rollback was funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits and came with the additional offer to build Tennessee Tech’s new research facilities on land Fitzgerald owns. It isn’t unusual for companies to sponsor university studies, however, universities have strict guidelines in place to prevent research findings from being compromised by bias.
An internal investigation is pending at Tennessee Tech at the behest of students and faculty to determine whether or not the findings were skewed in favor of Fitzgerald Glider Kits.
What the Future Holds
The only certainty we may have with the pronouncement of the EPA’s rollback is that, if implemented, 12 states and D.C. have decided they will sue the agency.
It’s a troubling intersection. On one hand, a fifty-year industry is at stake, one that not only helps those working in the business of manufacturing glider kits but assists independent truck drivers and small to midsize business owners as well. On the other, the leaps and bounds the U.S. has made in keeping our air clean and toxic pollutant-free, thus reducing hazardous health conditions, could be undone.
If there’s a happy medium, we can only hope it’s found soon.
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