Here’s a familiar tale if you’ve followed the current administration in the White House. Former President Barack Obama tried to close an absurd loophole in federal law that would allow certain trucks to vastly (and we mean vastly) exceed emission standards. Current President Donald Trump—thanks to political gamesmanship and potentially shoddy academic work—is keeping the loophole alive.
That’s according to a whopper of a story from The New York Times today, which focuses on the sale of the trucks, known as “gliders,” because—as the Times puts it—“they are manufactured without engines and are later retrofitted with the rebuilt ones.” The loophole has been condemned from a vast array of businesses, including Volvo, trucking company Navistar, and UPS:
Gliders are popular among small trucking companies and individual truck owners, who say they cannot afford to buy or operate vehicles with new engines and modern emissions controls.
The trucks, which Fitzgerald claims burn less fuel per mile and are cheaper to repair, have been on the market since at least the 1970s. But after the federal government moved to force improvements in truck emissions, with standards that were first enacted during the Clinton administration and took full effect by 2010, gliders became a way for trucking companies to legally skirt the rules.
The trucks are cheaper to operate, the Times reports, but they “spew 40 to 55 times the air pollution of other new trucks, according to federal estimates, including toxins blamed for asthma, lung cancer and a range of other ailments.”
One major player in the market is a company called Fitzgerald Glider Kits, and Fitzgerald welcomed Trump with open arms during his 2016 presidential campaign. The company even sells “Make Trucks Great Again” hats, the Times notes. But of course.
So what changed? The sort of swampy, insider-y Washington-type stuff that Trump championed so vociferously against during his campaign.
The Fitzgerald family, it turns out, is politically connected. They’re friends with EPA-hater-turned-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Republican congresswoman Diane Black of Tennessee, and Tennessee Technological University.
The University, according to the Times, produced a story which actually minimized pollution problems associated with gliders. How interesting.
The funder of the study? Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald had not only paid for the study, which has roiled the faculty at Tennessee Tech and is the subject of an internal investigation, but it had also offered to build a new research center for the university on land owned by the company. And in the six weeks before Mr. Pruitt announced in November that he would grant the exemption, Fitzgerald business entities, executives and family members contributed at least $225,000 to Ms. Black’s campaign for governor, campaign disclosure records show.
What’s the upshot? In total, the EPA estimates that “over the life of every 10,000 trucks without modern emissions systems, up to 1,600 Americans would die prematurely, and thousands more would suffer a variety of ailments including bronchitis and heart attacks, particularly in cities with air pollution associated with diesel-powered trains, ships and power plants.”
Fitzgerald’s owner, meanwhile, thinks the policy’s fantastic, telling the Times: “I don’t know why anyone would want to kill all these jobs. It does not make any sense.” Maybe he’ll get an idea after reading this piece? Maybe?