Tainted Study Casts Doubt on EPA Plan to Scrap Truck Emissions Rule (1)

By Abby Smith

The EPA should immediately drop plans to scrap a portion of its greenhouse gas emissions limits for trucks after a Tennessee state university backed away from an industry-funded study the agency used to support its proposal, environmental groups said.

The Environmental Protection Agency should do a better assessment of technology and the impacts of a potential repeal, Dave Cooke, senior vehicles analyst with Union of Concerned Scientists, told Bloomberg Environment.

“The fact that they didn’t even bother doing an analysis of the potential adverse health impacts that repealing this part of the rule would have shows there are fundamental errors in the rulemaking process that just don’t pass legal muster,” Cooke said.

Tennessee Technological University President Philip Oldham in a Feb. 19 letter requested the EPA “withhold any use or reference to the study results” after environmental groups, state officials, and major trucking industry groups questioned the researchers’ methods and industry ties.

The study—tucked into the industry’s request for reconsideration of the rule—found that glider kits—which are new truck chassis and cab assemblies built for the installation of a used engine and transmission—"performed equally as well and in some instances out-performed” new truck engines.

Contradicted Data

That finding contradicted the EPA’s own data showing that glider kits generally emitted four to 40 times more nitrogen oxides and 50 to 450 times more particulate matter than new model year 2014 and 2015 trucks.

Despite that, the EPA said it “did not rely” on the Tennessee Tech study as the basis for its November proposal to exempt glider kits from Obama-era greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty trucks.

The EPA “merely mentioned” the Tennessee Tech study—funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, one of the country’s largest makers of the equipment—in the proposal because it was cited in a petition from several glider kit makers for the agency to reconsider that portion of the rule, an EPA spokesperson told Bloomberg Environment.

“EPA proposed to revisit the treatment of gliders based on legal and statutory interpretations that are thoroughly explained in the proposed rule,” the spokesperson said.

‘Mountain Out of a Molehill’

Industry groups that support the EPA’s proposed repeal also are dismissing any impact that the controversy the Tennessee Tech study could have.

“This simply looks like somebody trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Surely, we have more important things to do,” Todd Spencer, acting president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which supports the EPA’s plans, told Bloomberg Environment.

Spencer, whose group cited the Tennessee Tech study in its comments supporting the EPA’s proposal, said he only briefly looked at the research. “When we initailly became aware of that study, we didn’t have any reason to question their findings,” he said.

And Spencer noted that the agency’s position that its glider kits proposal centered on a decision about “whether or not EPA has the authority to reach into that market.” His group doesn’t believe the EPA—nor the Department of Transportation—has that authority.

“This is such a minute portion” of the truck market that “it sort of seems insignificant,” Spencer said, when asked what agency would have the authority to regulate glider kits.

Public Health Impacts

But environmentalists are skeptical of the EPA’s efforts to distance itself from the study—particularly since the agency didn’t include its own analysis of the public health and cost impacts of repealing the glider kit limits in its proposal.

The EPA in its proposal (RIN:2060–AT79) “extensively cited” the Tennessee Tech study, Paul Billings, senior vice president of advocacy with the American Lung Association, told Bloomberg Environment.

“If their revision of history is now that they did not, the question for all is: Are we supposed to believe their words now or my lying eyes?” Billings said.

Tennessee Tech has no time frame to complete its investigation into whether there was any research misconduct, Dewayne Wright, a spokesman for the university, told Bloomberg Environment.

He said that Oldham has “gone beyond the university policy and called for an external peer review of the research that will be conducted concurrently to the internal investigation.”

Uncertainty Ahead

The EPA is reviewing public input on its November proposal. It’s unclear when the agency will move to complete the rule.

“I would expect there are conversations going on at the agency in light of this communication from Tennessee Tech University that I hope are giving some pause to them moving forward,” Billings said.

But he added that despite the recent controversy and strong opposition, he’s “not optimistic” the EPA will withdraw its plans to scrap the limits.

“It would be hard to imagine that one small company in one state could trump all the widely diverse set of interests, including manufacturers, users, dealers, environmental interests, economic arguments, and safety concerns,” Glen Kedzie, vice president and energy and environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations, told Bloomberg Environment.

The industry group, which represents major trucking companies, opposes the EPA’s plans to kill the glider kit limits—as well as any attempts to reopen or rewrite the Obama-era greenhouse gas standards.

“If we can’t address this in a logical manner, then we’ll have to rely upon the courts to decide what is legally allowed and what is not,” Kedzie said. “That will take a considerable amount of money and time on all parties, the government side and industry.”