A newly expanded federal loophole is fueling the growth of semi trucks retrofitted with rebuilt, older engines that produce diesel emissions far greater than the combined emissions of all Volkswagen diesels equipped with fraudulent emissions controls, a New York Times investigation shows.
The trucks, which use new truck bodies from Peterbilt, Freightliner and other manufacturers mated to rebuilt engines exempt from pollution standards, are known as “gliders.” They’re cheaper than semis equipped with modern, emissions-compliant engines, may get higher fuel economy and are less expensive to repair and maintain. But they emit toxins and tiny dust and soot particles blamed for causing asthma, lung cancer and other diseases. And their ranks are growing, with about 10,000 sold in 2015, the last year for which data are available, up from fewer than 1,000 in 2010.
An analysis by staff members at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that gliders emitted nitrogen oxide levels during highway driving that were 43 times as high as those from trucks with modern emissions-control systems. The EPA staff estimated that one year’s worth of glider sales released 13 times as much of the pollutant as all VW diesels equipped with the emissions-cheating software — and that was scandal that resulted in a criminal case against the company and more than $4 billion in fines.
The trucks pollute so heavily, in fact, that in stop-and-go traffic, filters clogged with particulate matter forced testing equipment to shut down.
The Obama administration had proposed to eliminate the loophole by enacting a stricter diesel emissions rule that was scheduled to take effect last month. But Scott Pruitt, the Trump administration’s head of the EPA, granted an exemption to the rule, thanks in part to: a controversial study by Tennessee Technological University that exonerated glider emissions; U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Republican who is running to be the state’s governor; and the financial support of the Fitzgerald family, which operates several dealerships selling the rebuilt semi trucks — Fitzgerald business entities, executives and family members have contributed at least $225,000 to Black’s campaign. Fitzgerald also paid for that Tennessee Tech study, which is under internal investigation by the university.
Pruitt is also proposing to repeal the cap limiting the number of gliders that can be sold each year.