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July 19, 2018 11:00 AM, EDT
Appeals Court Temporarily Stays EPA Decision to Not Enforce Glider Kit Truck Regulation
Fitzgerald Glider Kits trucks (John Sommers II for Transport Topics) Fitzgerald Glider Kits trucks (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

A federal appeals court has issued a temporary stay blocking a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to not enforce an Obama administration regulation that limits glider kit truck manufacturers to building no more than 300 of the trucks a year.

The July 18 order of a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia came in a lawsuit filed earlier this month by three environmental groups that alleged EPA’s decision would have paved the way for the production and sale of an unlimited number of glider trucks “that will operate for decades and emit orders of magnitude more pollutants than trucks compliant with current pollution-control standards.”

“The agency’s refusal to implement its own regulations will result in premature mortality on a massive scale, and it threatens to undermine decades of progress in combating diesel-exhaust pollution,” the lawsuit said.

A glider is a heavy-duty truck that combines a brand-new truck body with a used engine and transmission.

Although the panel granted the temporary stay, it said its action was to give it sufficient time to consider an emergency motion by the environmental groups, and “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion.” It required responses by the EPA and the environmentalists be filed by July 27.

The lawsuit was filed July 17 by the Environmental Defense Fund, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, in response to a July 6 agency memo from EPA enforcement chief Susan Bodine suspending for a year enforcement of the cap on the production and sale of glider kits.

Bodine’s “no-action assurance” memo was dated only a day after then EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned after months of investigations into questionable ethics. In November, the agency issued a proposed rule to repeal the Obama-era regulation, questioning the notion that the gliders were big polluters and whether EPA even had the authority to regulate the gliders.

Bodine

Bodine

In her memo, Bodine said suspension of the Obama regulation for one year was needed to allow the agency time to consider “several matters” before it could take a final action on the proposed repeal.

But in its emergency motion, the environmentalists said the “super-polluters thus are poised to spend their lifetimes emitting many times more smog-forming nitrogen oxides, lung-damaging particulate matter and cancer-causing toxics than lawfully built heavy-duty trucks. Relief is urgently needed from EPA’s unlawful action in order to avert substantial and irreparable public-health consequences.”

The controversial proposed repeal drew more than 3,500 written comments since it was first announced Nov. 9. EPA declined requests to extend the comment period, which closed Jan. 5.

In a statement, Pruitt called the Obama administration’s rule limiting gliders “an attempt to bend the rule of law and expand the reach of the federal government in a way that threatened to put an entire industry of specialized truck manufacturers out of business.”

Glen Kedzie, energy and environmental counsel for American Trucking Associations, said the court’s action to temporarily suspend the enforcement directive reaffirms his group’s position.

“EPA has both the legal authority and responsibility to the public to close this dangerous emissions loophole created by a small special interest group of manufacturers,” Kedzie told Transport Topics on July 18. “As the court next moves to consider a permanent suspension, I am confident that the science and the law will fall squarely on our side.”

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Republican leaders on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology are requesting that EPA officials brief the panel’s staffers by July 26 regarding a study on glider kits. Specifically, the lawmakers are seeking to gain greater insight about a study from the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory they say raise concerns about bias.

“The committee has concerns regarding the scientific integrity and validity of a recent study,” the lawmakers wrote to acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler on July 12. “To better assist the committee in understanding how EPA intends to uphold scientific integrity and how it undertakes decisions to perform scientific studies underlying regulation, we request a briefing for committee staff by the appropriate EPA officials who are familiar with this matter.”

Staff Reporter Eugene Mulero contributed to this story.