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Rollback of a Different Kind, Ordered by the EPA, Will Benefit Air Quality

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the behest of the new acting EPA administrator, will keep Obama-era regulation limiting air pollution from heavy trucks in place.
July 30, 2018, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Environmentalists and public health advocates are breathing easier, if only temporarily, on account of one of the first administrative actions by acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler, who "reversed the final policy act of his predecessor, Scott Pruitt: granting a loophole that would have allowed more highly polluting trucks on the nation’s roads," reports Lisa Friedman from The New York Times' climate desk.

Mr. Wheeler has worked during his first three weeks as the E.P.A.’s acting chief to put distance between himself and Mr. Pruitt [who resigned July 6 amid a host of ethics investigations] stylistically by addressing his staff, issuing a public schedule of his activities and taking questions from journalists.

The rule that Pruitt had repealed on July 6, included in the "Greenhouse Gas and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Heavy-Duty Trucks," finalized Aug. 16, 2016 (and posted here), limited the number of glider trucks, also called kits, that could be sold each year to 300 per small manufacturer because they are so heavily polluting.

"Glider kits are new trucks that come without an engine or transmission — the name comes from the idea that they are engineless, like gliders," explains Friedman.

Older engines are then installed, and the resulting vehicles produce as much as 55 times the amount of air pollution as trucks with modern emissions controls.

“This is a huge win for all Americans who care about clean air and human health,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp in a statement. EDF, along with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and 17 states and the District of Columbia were referenced in Wheeler's July 26 memo [pdf], "Withdrawal of Conditional No Action Assurance Regarding Small Manufacturers of Glider Vehicles," that gave clues as to why he was repealing an action that he had signed on July 6:

Three environmental groups and a coalition of states filed several separate administrative requests for the EPA to either immediately withdraw or administratively stay the No Action Assurance... On July 18, the court issued an administrative stay of the No Action Assurance for the duration of time the court considers the emergency motion...

That stay, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, "said the EPA must respond to the lawsuit from environmental groups by July 25," according to David Shepardson of Reuters, so it does appear that litigation, rather than concern over air quality, was the motivating factor, confirmed by the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement:

“The utter lawlessness of Scott Pruitt’s gambit to foul our air with thousands more ultra-dirty trucks was obvious to all,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “But Andrew Wheeler didn’t stop Pruitt’s last-gasp mayhem until the court stayed his hand.”

However, the clean air victory may be short-lived, according to Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, adds Friedman

“With Mr. Pruitt out, I’m glad to see EPA will reverse one of the most egregious — and likely illegal — environmental proposals of his tenure,” Carper said in a statement. He called the reversal “a step in the right direction” but he criticized a longer-term E.P.A. plan that aims to eventually exempt glider trucks from greenhouse gas regulations.

Indeed, Wheeler's memo states that EPA's Office of Air and Radiation “shall continue to move as expeditiously as possible on a regulatory revision regarding the requirements that apply to the introduction of glider vehicles.”

Full Story:
Published on Friday, July 27, 2018 in The New York Times
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