New acting EPA chief will enforce 'glider truck' limits

Follows a court decision blocking the EPA's plan to stop enforcing rules

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's acting chief said late Thursday the government will withdraw a decision to lift strict sales limits on remanufactured heavy duty vehicles known as "glider trucks".

The vehicles have a used engine in a new frame and rules introduced under former U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, said nearly all new trucks on the road must use more efficient, less polluting engines.

The glider trucks emit up to 450 times more diesel particulate matter and up to 40 times more smog-forming nitrogen oxides than new trucks on the market, the EPA has said.

The EPA issued a "no action" memo on July 6 that declared the agency would not enforce a limit of up to 300 gliders per manufacturer.

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who took over earlier this month, said in a memo Thursday withdrawing the guidance he had "concluded that the application of current regulations to the glider industry does not represent the kind of extremely unusual circumstances that support the EPA's exercise of enforcement discretion."

A federal appeals court on July 18 temporarily blocked the EPA reversal after environmental groups sued the agency to force it to enforce the existing rules. On July 19, 16 states and the District of Columbia also sued the EPA.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said the July 6 memo "was blatantly unlawful... By letting more of these super polluting trucks on the road, EPA is putting politics before the public's health and safety."

The EPA had said in its July 6 memo that enforcing the rules would result "in the loss of jobs" and threaten the viability of companies making the glider trucks.

The EPA in November issued a proposal regulation to undo the glider rule but has not finalized it.

Wheeler's memo Thursday said the EPA will "move as expeditiously as possible" on revising the regulations "that apply to the introduction of glider vehicles into commerce to the extent consistent with statutory requirements and due consideration of air quality impacts."

An EPA spokesperson confirmed Thursday the guidance had been withdrawn.

Volvo Group North America, Cummins Inc and Navistar International Corp told the EPA last year they opposed efforts to reverse the limits on glider trucks.

Glider kits "should not be used for circumventing purchase of currently certified powertrains." The move could inflict "uncertainty and damage to our industry," the companies said.

The EPA has previously said that if gliders were allowed through 2025, they would make up 5 percent of the freight trucks on the road but would account for one third of all nitrogen oxides and particulate matter emissions from the U.S. heavy truck fleet.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, one of the state officials suing, said the EPA has estimated that adding 10,000 glider trucks "with non-compliant engines onto our roads in a single year could result in up to 1,600 premature deaths" and 415,000 tons of additional nitrogen oxide emissions.

Glider companies told the EPA that glider trucks are 25 percent cheaper than new vehicles.

In August 2016, the Obama administration issued final rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from medium and heavy duty trucks through 2027, a sector that accounts for 20 percent of carbon pollution from vehicles.

The commercial vehicle rules are expected to cut 1.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the Obama administration estimated.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Michael Perry)

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