Policy changes may open the door for Fitzgerald Gliders to go back to full swing production levels

Posted July 11, 2018 at 2:50 pm

Just days following appeals to EPA officials to rescind a ruling that was basically killing the glider freight truck industry, including here in Kentucky and Tennessee, the EPA reversed course and will allow a loophole in regulations that will now see glider kit vehicles to be produced in larger quantities.

The last-minute finding on the final day of Scott Pruitt’s tenure as EPA director upset many environmental groups and political figures, but was praised by many in the trucking industry, such as Fitzgerald Trucking, which produces the glider kits and thus employs thousands of people in at least two states.

Several articles have been published locally about local, state and federal officials’ fight to repeal the Obama-era regulations that would halt production of the glider kits and as well, put a planned operation in neighboring Wayne County by Fitzgerald’s in jeopardy. That facility, if carried through with, is expected to employ 250 people from this area.

Last Friday, July 6, The New York Times, in an article by Eric Lipton which was headlined, “‘Super Polluting’ Trucks Receive Loophole on Pruitt’s Last Day”, referring to the former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.

That article came out just days following an article published in the Wayne County Outlook out of Monticello which had a headline that read, “Efforts continue to help glider kit company,” again referring to manufacturers of glider kit freight trucks like that owned by Fitzgerald Industries, which has ties to the local community and is headquartered in nearby Crossville, Tennessee.

One of Fitzgerald’s largest assembly plants is located just across the Kentucky – Tennessee border in neighboring Pickett County, Tennessee.

In recent weeks, due to the regulations placed under the past administration, Fitzgerald Trucking had announced the layoffs of hundreds of employees producing the glider kits, with more expected prior to the end of this year if the regulations had not have been changed.

Fitzgerald employs a few thousand people at its various factories, including several local and area residents.

The Times article began by saying, “In the final hours of Scott Pruitt’s tenure as administrator, the Environmental Protection Agency moved on Friday (July 6) to effectively grant a loophole that will allow a major increase in the manufacturing of a diesel freight truck that produces as much as 55 times the air pollution as trucks that have modern emissions controls.”

The Times article indicated the move to grant the reinstatement of the “loophole” came as a result of intense lobbying by a small set of manufacturers that sell glider trucks. However, in recent articles from local and area news outlets, it has been noted that many local, state and federal legislators from both political parties have joined the glider kit companies in asking the regulations be repealed to help save and/or create manufacturing jobs the industry creates.

The article also noted the EPA’s administrator’s decision was strongly opposed by an alliance of health groups and several environmental organizations.

Agency officials, according to the published report, confirmed to The New York Times last week that through the end of 2019, the EPA will not enforce an annual cap of 300 gliders per manufacturer that had been imposed in January.

The glider truck concept began so the engines of relatively new trucks that had been involved in accidents could be transferred to new truck bodies, but that was before the new emissions control requirements went into effect in recent years.

The Times article reported that Vickie Patton, the general counsel at the Environmental Defense Fund (which is an environmental lobbying group themselves), blamed Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler, the number two official in the EPA, who will become its acting administrator.

“Pruitt and Wheeler are creating a loophole for super polluting freight trucks that will fill our children’s lungs with toxic diesel pollution, ignoring public comments from…leading businesses across the country,” she said.

One year’s worth of truck sales was estimated to release 13 times as much nitrogen oxide as all of the Volkswagon diesel cars with fraudulent controls, a scheme that resulted in a criminal case against the company and more than $4 billion in fines, the Times report said.

The article said Pruitt had championed the rollback, claiming the EPA did not have the legal authority to force companies like Fitzgerald to significantly reduce reduction of glider trucks. He announced his intention to eliminate the 300-unit limit last year, but it was slowed down by the White House pending further studies, somewhat uncharteristically which The Times reporter said was “an unusual move during the Trump administration.”

Fitzgerald made about 3,000 of the trucks in 2017, a production rate that will now be allowed to return and apparently with it, save jobs. An estimated 10,000 glider trucks were sold nationally in 2015, about four percent of new heavy-duty truck sales–and production could soon return to that level.

“The agency is exercising its enforcement discretion of 2018 and 2019,” Molly Block, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement late last Friday, meaning that notifying glider manufacturers that even though the limit legally remains in place, the companies can effectively ignore it.

The agency, she said, is also considering formally delaying a 300-unit cap until December 2019–by which point it hopes to have permanently repealed the cap.

It is not clear at this point what impact the most recent EPA decision may have on Fitzgerald’s plans to open a new plant in Monticello.

The rollback was immediately condemned by environmental groups, which have appealed to the White House to block the EPA from creating the loophole.

The article stated that executives at Fitzgerald did not respond to their request for comment, but referred to an opinion written in April by Tommy Fitzgerald, Jr., its chief executive, praising Pruitt and blaming industry competitor’s like Volvo, that sell new trucks for the now-delayed regulatory effort.

(Emails released through the Freedom of Information Act request show that EPA officials had been working with an executive from Volvo Group North America to perform tests on glider trucks that would be used to challenge the effort by Pruitt. Also, in last week’s issue of the Wayne County Outlook, an article quoting Overdrive magazine reported on the Volvo situation and attempt by several legislators to help repeal the Obama-era EPA regulations.)

The Outlook noted that letters from Washington lawmakers were asking the EPA to investigate potential improper contacts with Volvo and the agency, with one of the Congressman seeking the investigation being First District Representative James Comer of Kentucky.

That article, taken in part from Overdrive magazine and released prior to the EPA ruling last Friday, also noted local officials had been in contact with senators and congressman from Kentucky to show support for the repeal of the emissions regulations, and Wayne County Fiscal Court had officially drafted letters to show its support for the repeal.

“The new truck industry conspired with the Obama EPA to try to put us out of business,” Fitzgerald wrote, adding, “Our goose was cooked until President Trump and Pruitt came to town.”