EPA reverses decision, again adversely effects Fitzgerald Glider production numbers

Posted August 8, 2018 at 1:12 pm

The on again, off again saga of one of the largest employers in the Albany and Clinton County area, Fitzgerald Glider Kits, continues to remain open on a vastly reduced level of production numbers after the latest report of bad news for the company from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The truck assembly company, based largely in neighboring Pickett County, Tennessee, employed a large number of Clinton County residents as early this year as June, before it was announced that its production levels would be drastically cut.

At question is the industry of rebuilding diesel engines from wrecked semi-trucks, and installing them into new truck chassis and bodies, at a cost that was said to be as much as 25 percent cheaper than trucks newly built by companies such as Peterbuilt, Mack and Volvo.

In addition, regulations governing the industry allowed the glider kit industry to put trucks on the road with the rebuilt engines which were not required to meet current emission levels that newly built semi-trucks are required to meet.

Fitzgerald Glider Kits, had previously produced an average of 3,000 truck kits per year and with several separate operations just across the Kentucky – Tennessee boundary in Pickett County, Tennessee, employed a host of people from Albany and Clinton County.

The current regulations would reduce the number of trucks a company could produce to about 300 annually, about 10 percent of the number previously being produced by Fitzgerald.

In addition to effecting the number of jobs held with the company by local residents, the EPA decision also could halt plans of expansion into plans for a separate assembly plant that was announced several weeks ago in neighboring Wayne County, Kentucky.

That announcement noted that Fitzgerald was planning on opening a plant that would manufacture aluminum beds for dump trucks in the former Beldon’s plant in Monticello.

In that announcement, published in the April 5 edition of the Clinton County News, it was noted that the new assembly plant there could employ as many as 250 from this area and would involve an investment by Fitzgerald of as much as $6 million.

Several weeks ago, the company began laying off many of its employees when it was announced that the EPA would close a loophole in the regulations from the Obama era that would basically halt production at glider kit assembly plants like the Fitzgerald company.

Then, just a couple of weeks later, it appeared that the glider kit industry had received a reprieve of sorts when, on his last day as the EPA Director, Scott Pruitt, just before resigning, signed orders that basically reversed course for the agency, allowing the loophole in regulations to continue existence, thus putting the glider kit industry “back in business” so to speak.

The reprieve was short-lived, however, as before the glider kit industry companies could call employees back to work and begin production on high numbers of trucks again, the loophole in the regulations were again closed and the bad news for the firms quickly circulated across the area.

That announcement, that the EPA would, in fact, uphold the 2016 rules that were designed to reduce greenhouse emissions from the glider kit trucks, came after several states and a host of environmental groups requested a review of the EPA decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The states and groups opposing the higher production levels of the glider kit trucks, are basing their opposition on claims that the units, by not being held to current emission standards, are operating at levels that produce dangerous exhaust emissions at levels much higher than heavy-duty diesel powered trucks manufactured under regulations for new models with new diesel engines

The EPA claims that the glider-kit trucks release damaging pollutants that are nearly 450 times higher than the newly built counterparts, as well as producing 40 times higher nitrogen oxide levels into the air.

The see-saw chain of events has been the subject of a host of articles by several publications including the Clinton County News, Wayne County Outlook, Lexington Herald-Leader in addition to the New York Times.

One area publication that has extensively covered the situation with the EPA regulations and Fitzgerald Glider Kits, has been the Upper Cumberland Business Journal based in nearby Cookeville, Tennessee.

In her most recent article following the EPA announcement that the production caps would in fact remain in force, Amye Anderson, Managing Editor for the Journal, also pointed to a study that has come into question regarding the level of emissions the glider kit trucks produce.

That study, performed by Tennessee Tech University in 2016 and funded by Fitzgerald, has been challenged by TTU faculty and media after its preliminary findings were presented to the University of Tennessee government officials.

In an article that appeared July 30, Anderson noted that the contents of that study had come under a complaint filed under
“Tennessee Tech Policy 780 – Misconduct in Research” which has ultimately prompted the investigation into the allegations surrounding the study.

That study noted that glider produced trucks were at least as energy efficient, and perhaps more so than, new-build heavy-duty trucks.

Anderson’s article from July 30 noted however that Jon Toomey, the Director of government affairs for Fitzgerald, had taken issue with the report that the TTU study was being sharply criticized and called into question.

“The study by TTU (Tennessee Tech University) demonstrates the exact opposite that gliders are ‘super polluting’ and the criticism of the study is unfounded,” Jon Toomey told Anderson for her article in the UCBJ. “Unfortunately, the TTU study has become exemplified because there was a complaint filed by a faculty member, Dr. (Benjamin) Mohr at TTU. It appears he was upset not at the actual test results, but rather with the presentation and that he was replaced by Mr. (Tom) Brewer. Secondly, the report was not and has not been ‘disavowed’ by TTU. This is again misinformation that is meant to put a spin on the investigation that was launched or encouraged by the certain professors with an axe to grind with the administration at the University.”

According to a TTU spokesperson, Dewayne Wright, the university was “still in the process of following its internal procedures related to the research misconduct allegation” Anderson’s article noted.