In one of his final acts at the Environmental Protection Agency, outgoing EPA administrator Scott Pruitt quietly gifted a pollution loophole to diesel freight truck manufacturers who had lobbied the administration to allow them to continue making trucks relying on old engines with fewer environmental safeguards.
Pruitt submitted his resignation on Thursday after months of controversy over a complex web of ethics scandals related to the potential abuse of his EPA position, including questions over his government spending and management of aides. Friday marked his last official day at the agency.
As the New York Times reports, during the last few hours of Pruitt’s tenure as one of the shortest-serving EPA administrators in history, the agency moved to allow some heavy-duty tractor-trailers to continue evading pollution standards.
The loophole in question is regarding so-called “gliders,” or heavy-duty trucks whose bodies have been built around older engines and transmissions to cut down manufacturing costs. These old engines typically don’t adhere to modern emissions standards designed to protect the air from pollutants, including particulates that can raise the risk of asthma and lung cancer.
The Obama administration took several approaches to address gliders, sometimes called “super polluters” because they result in so much more air pollution compared to modern trucks. One Obama-era rule required gliders to meet the same emissions standards as freight trucks with new engines. After noticing an uptick in gliders manufactured by companies hoping to evade regulations, Obama’s EPA also imposed an annual 300-unit cap on new gliders per each trucking company.
The EPA on Friday moved to end enforcement of the 300-unit cap on gliders, ceasing the government’s attempt to limit the number of these super polluters in production. EPA officials confirmed to the New York Times that the agency will not enforce the cap through the end of 2019. Though the limit technically took effect in January, truck manufacturers will be allowed to sidestep it — and agency officials will contact them to explain they are permitted to do so.
Pruitt’s EPA has been eyeing giveaways to the glider industry for some time. Last year, Pruitt also proposed rolling back the emissions rule for heavy-duty freight trucks, prompting outcry from environmental protection groups and several former EPA administrators.
“This just does not make any sense to me,” Christine Todd Whitman, who led the EPA during President George W. Bush’s first term, told the New York Times earlier this year. “Everybody breathes the same air, Democrats or Republicans. It does not matter. This is about keeping people healthy.”
The agency proposed weakening the environmental standards for gliders based on a study that was backed by Fitzgerald, the country’s biggest glider manufacturer. The study was later withdrawn over questions about research misconduct.
There has been other evidence of Fitzgerald cozying up to the Trump administration. President Trump made a campaign stop at a Fitzgerald dealership during the lead-up to the 2016 election. Pruitt met privately with Fitzgerald executives while he was at the helm of the EPA.
In recent weeks, some of the especially ridiculous details about Pruitt’s controversial behavior as EPA head — including accusations about how he treated his staff, like forcing his aides to drive him to multiple Ritz-Carlton hotels to search for a particular type of lotion — have somewhat overshadowed his more lasting legacy at the agency: rampant environmental deregulation.
As ThinkProgress’ Kyla Mandel previously reported:
Under Pruitt’s leadership, the agency finalized the rollback of 22 environmental rules, and undertook action on at least 44 more regulations. The most high-profile of those rollbacks was perhaps Pruitt’s efforts to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era regulation that would have placed emissions limits on power plants.
Pruitt also quietly attempted to roll back rules that would have placed stricter limits on the amount of mercury that can be emitted from power plants, or the amount of methane that can be emitted from oil and gas operations.
Pruitt’s interim successor, EPA deputy administrator Andrew Wheeler, hasn’t been as racked with high-profile scandals — but Wheeler has a similarly radical anti-regulatory agenda as his outgoing boss. A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler has signaled a willingness to pursue a policy approach that will benefit his industry and has expressed doubt about the science behind climate change.