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August 1, 2018 5:15 PM, EDT

Andrew Wheeler’s Reversal on Glider Order Earns Democratic Praise

A Fitzgerald glider kit installed in a Peterbilt truck A Fitzgerald glider kit installed in a Peterbilt truck. (Fitzgerald Glider Kits via YouTube)

WASHINGTON — A recent move by the acting U.S. EPA administrator to reverse his predecessor’s order on an Obama-era rule on glider kits for trucks earned him praise from the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

During a hearing Aug. 1, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware expressed gratitude to acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler for halting former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s final directive last month to allow the proliferation of glider kit trucks through the end of 2019. Environmental groups and certain industry groups opposed Pruitt’s move.

“He withdrew Mr. Pruitt’s parting act to stop enforcing air emissions standards for some of the dirtiest, heavy-duty trucks on the road under the Clean Air Act,” Carper told Wheeler. The senator had been a staunch critic of Pruitt’s budgetary decisions. “Thank you for that.”

The hearing was Wheeler’s first appearance before the committee in his acting capacity. He had been a former staff director for the panel prior to his work as a lobbyist for coal giant Murray Energy Corp.

Andrew Wheeler

Wheeler

Wheeler’s action on glider kits occurred July 26, a few days after environmental groups and 16 state attorneys general filed separate requests for review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. They claimed that not enforcing the glider provision in the 2016 Phase 2 Heavy Truck Greenhouse Gas rule would allow thousands of the “super polluting” glider trucks on U.S. roadways.

Under Pruitt, EPA on July 6 had suspended through the end of 2019 a cap on the 300 glider kits that a single builder may produce annually. The agency had indicated it reviewed comments on that proposal submitted by stakeholders to arrive at its decision.

Glider trucks are a combination of new truck bodies with older engines. Last year, EPA issued a proposed rule to repeal the regulation on gliders, questioning whether gliders were big polluters and whether EPA even had the authority to regulate the gliders.

At the hearing, Democrats shared Carper’s criticism of Pruitt while expressing optimism that under Wheeler’s tenure the agency would improve its information-sharing with Congress and the public. Democratic senators also pressed Wheeler on policy that would address man-made climate change.

“I believe that you are making a good-faith effort to reverse the course at EPA and operate in a transparent manner,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Tom Carper

Carper

Rhode Island’s Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D), a staunch proponent of advancing climate change initiatives, added, “We are seeing climate change-driven sea level rise that’s going to require us to redraw the map of my damn state. If that’s not something to make a senator serious about protecting it, I don’t know what is.”

Republicans, for their part, praised Wheeler’s continuance of President Donald Trump’s directive on streamlining the environmental regulatory process. As committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) put it, “Over the past year and a half, the Environmental Protection Agency has been busy rolling back punishing regulations that hurt the economy in my home state of Wyoming and communities across the country.”

Barrasso also affirmed his support for Wheeler to become EPA administrator if Trump were to nominate him for that post. He had been the agency’s deputy administrator prior to his new role.

Wheeler told the panel the agency’s Lean Management System and the Office of Continuous Improvement is tracking the duration of the permitting process. The agency’s goal, he added, is to issue permitting decisions in six months.

“We need to improve our permitting processes. Permitting issues can heavily impact small and midsize businesses,” Wheeler said. “I am not suggesting that we approve all permits within a set amount of time. I am suggesting that we make a decision, yes or no, within a set amount of time.”