EPA now enforcing glider kit production caps

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor 

UPPER CUMBERLAND – Almost as quickly as it was confirmed the Environmental Protection Agency would temporarily halt enforcing mandated production caps on glider kit production, it was announced the restrictive measures would remain in force. 

Late last week, it was announced the EPA would uphold the 2016-issued rules that stand to cut greenhouse gas emissions from medium- and heavy-duty trucks. 

Though touted as being 25 percent cheaper than modern new-build trucks, the EPA claims glider kits release extreme amounts of damaging pollutants in comparison to their more modern counterparts. The EPA has previously stated glider kit trucks release nearly 450 times more diesel particulate matter and up to 40 times more nitrogen oxides compared to newer, more efficient models. 

More than a dozen states and several environmental groups reportedly requested a review by the U.S. Court of Appeals in an effort to keep the production caps in place. Earlier this month, the appeals court issued a temporary block of the EPA’s latest stance, saying the Agency must enforce the production caps. 

Known as Phase II requirements, the production caps limiting glider kit production at 300 units annually, kicked in earlier this year. Enforcement of the regulation is unwelcome news for local glider kit-production giant, Fitzgerald Glider Kits, who has previously estimated churning out an average of 3,000 kits each year.

While environmental groups, EPA officials, and trucking companies have recently pleaded their respective cases regarding the matter, there’s been little news of the status of the Tennessee Tech-led inquiry into one study, conducted in 2016, that was previously cited as showing glider kits were as energy efficient as, if not more than, new-build models. 

In June, we spoke with Jon Toomey, Fitzgerald’s director of government affairs following the news that dozens of employees were being laid off and at least one plant would shutter completely. 

“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, Fitzgerald’s director of government affairs, told us last month. “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.”

The study’s preliminary findings were shared with university and state leaders. Funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, the study has received sharp criticism from faculty and media in recent months. The university’s relationship with Fitzgerald and the company’s deep political ties have also been called into question.

A complaint filed under Tennessee Tech Policy 780 – Misconduct in Research – ultimately prompted the investigation into the allegations surrounding the study.

There’s no word yet on the results of the university-led inquiry into how the study was handled. According to Tennessee Tech spokesperson Dewayne Wright, the university “is still in the process of following its internal procedures related to the research misconduct allegation.”

Sources have indicated the inquiry report was to be submitted to Dr. Sharon Huo, Associate Provost Professor, in mid-April. 

The contents of the Fitzgerald-funded emissions study have not been released. According to Tennessee state law,  the university cannot release a sponsored research project without the permission of the sponsoring organization – in this case, Fitzgerald Glider Kits. 

The UCBJ had previously submitted a request to Fitzgerald for permission to review the contents of the research study but has yet to receive a response to that request.

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