A Rare Victory: EPA Reverses Course and Closes Zombie Truck Loophole (For Now)

July 27, 2018 | 10:32 am
Photo: HStarr/iStock
Jonna Hamilton
Former Contributor

Last night, we learned that we actually scored a win on glider trucks.

Just before Scott Pruitt resigned from his position as EPA administrator, he gave a parting gift to the super-polluting glider truck industry. He said that the EPA wouldn’t enforce their own rule that limits production of these super-polluting trucks for another year and a half, an action that put thousands of lives at risk and seems legally indefensible. We had something to say about this, and so did you! More than 14,000 UCS supporters weighed in with EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, telling him to reverse course and close the glider vehicle loophole.

Glider trucks are really bad—they emit up to 40 times the NOx and 450 times the particulate pollution allowed in new trucks sold today. We have written about the strange backstory of these trucks and the saga of how one company (cough – Fitzgerald – cough) stands to gain from the previous administrator’s actions several times. You could say that we’re pretty fired up about glider trucks here at UCS.

So, what happened yesterday?

Andrew Wheeler is now the acting administrator of the EPA.  He was confirmed as deputy administrator in April and took over when Pruitt resigned.  We have been watching to see what he will do on several issues core to UCS’s mission and we got our first indication last night that he is at least more rational than his predecessor. He is not going to follow through with the enforcement ban that Pruitt put in place, which is great news. Is it the end of the story? Definitely not. But it’s a good indication that he is cut from different cloth than Pruitt.

This is a huge win for people who breathe air, particularly if they do so near trucking corridors. But we’re not out of the woods yet. There is still a rule on the table that would deregulate glider trucks entirely—many of you submitted comments on this rule (thank you!!) and we are in a waiting period to see if it gets finalized. Acting Administrator Wheeler has the power to kill the rule, like he did the enforcement ban, we just need to wait and see if he is willing to take that next step.

A political maneuver—but nonetheless a positive one

You may be wondering why he did this now, quietly, on a Thursday night, less than a week before he’s scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee…..oh wait. There’s no doubt in my mind that Acting Administrator Wheeler made this move on purpose just before his first Senate hearing since he was confirmed. He is signaling that he is a different kind of political appointee and is probably hoping that Democratic members will go easier on him; this move may help.

The other piece of this puzzle are the lawsuits against the enforcement that were immediately filed by several environmental groups  and 16 states—the DC Circuit Court stayed the enforcement ban as they collect more information.

However, there are still LOTS of outstanding issues that we will keep a close eye on and will work to hold him accountable for anything the agency does under his watch—including weakening the clean car standards and undermining state authority to regulate tailpipe emissions (the proposal for this could come next week), advancing the restricted science proposal, continuing with this nonsense on PFAS, taking any further action on glider trucks…..the list is long.

But today let’s take a moment to savor our victory. Enjoy it. Relish it. Drink it in. These moments are infrequent, but they are fortifying. On Monday, we’ll be back in the fight.