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August 1, 2019 5:15 PM, EDT

EPA IG Finds Study Critical of Glider Emissions Was Properly Conducted

Glider Emissions Trucks ready for glider kit installation. (Fitzgerald Glider Kits via YouTube)

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A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General audit has given a 2017 agency study critical of glider truck emissions a clean bill of health.

The audit found that the study was “consistent with Clean Air Act authority, standard EPA practices and relevant policies and procedures.”

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The audit also concluded that EPA did not improperly secure glider test vehicles from Volvo Trucks North America to be used for the emissions testing, but noted that EPA did not fully adhere to “delegation of authority” requirements. EPA should have technically consulted with the EPA’s Director of the Office of Administration, and obtained approval through the appropriate Deputy Ethics official before it accepted vehicle donations for the study, the audit said.

Nonetheless, the IG concluded, “The practice of using OEMs or external parties to help locate and test certain types of vehicles is not uncommon, especially when testing is conducted for research instead of compliance purposes.”

“We confirmed that EPA employees obtained approval to conduct glider vehicle testing and that EPA leadership received an August 2017 briefing on the potential for a glider vehicle test program before EPA career staff initiated the program,” the IG audit said. “We found that EPA employees followed normal procedures in submitting the November 2017 glider vehicle test report to a public rulemaking docket.”

Glider trucks combine new truck bodies with older and oftentimes rebuilt engines that commonly do not meet current truck emissions requirements.

The IG audit was initiated in September of last year at the request of four Republican members of Congress, who questioned the integrity of EPA’s glider study conclusions that emissions from glider vehicles tested under highway conditions had nitrogen oxide emissions 43 times higher than newer trucks and particulate matter emissions 55 times higher.

The IG said its audit was intended to primarily address three areas:

  • Did the selection and testing of glider vehicles violate any policies or procedures intended to ensure the objectivity and integrity of tests conducted at the EPA’s laboratory?
  • Did EPA employees follow policies and procedures in seeking and obtaining approval from EPA leadership to conduct testing and submit the test results to the public rulemaking docket?
  • Were e-mail communications between EPA and Volvo deleted or not fully provided to EPA Freedom of Information Act personnel in response to a FOIA request(s) regarding the report?

The EPA study was first made public Nov. 20, 2017, four days after then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed repealing the Obama-era rule to limit the production of glider trucks, a decision based in part on a Tennessee Technological University since-discredited study that concluded some glider engines actually burn cleaner than new trucks. The decision whether to go ahead with the repeal has been put on the agency’s back burner.

Kedzie

Kedzie

The TTU study, the subject of a university research misconduct investigation, was funded by Tennessee-based glider truck maker Fitzgerald Glider Kits, the largest glider manufacturer in the United States.

“The IG report puts to rest the unfounded accusations from the glider industry that a truck OEM influenced the outcomes of the glider testing results by the EPA,” said Glen Kedzie, environmental affairs counsel for American Trucking Associations.

Asked if Fitzgerald accepted the IG’s findings, Jon Toomey, the company’s director of government affairs responded, “We are unaware of any requirement that Fitzgerald accept or reject the audit. We find concerning that the trucks were paid for by opponents of gliders.”

Volvo, which has opposed a repeal of the rule, did not immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.