(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) offered the following remarks (as prepared for delivery) today regarding his opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to roll back regulations on glider vehicles:

I thank you for the opportunity to testify on this critical issue. Thank you to Bill Charmley, the Director of the Assessment and Standards Division in the Office of Transportation and Air Quality, for leading this panel, as well the rest of the staff of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

I also want to thank the various groups working to keep the public informed on this critical issue, including: The Union of Concerned Scientist, The Environmental Defense Fund, The International Council on Clean Transportation, and The American Lung Association; Your dedication to advancing policies to protect the health and safety of all Americans is essential as so much of our environmental safety net is turning into a tight rope. 

Climate change is not an “issue” but a civilizational emergency and the whole context within which we must decide every other problem.  There is no higher duty today than reversing damage to our environment and protecting our land, water, and air for our children and generations to come.

It is for this reason, I am here today to express my strong support for the EPA’s 2016 decision to apply greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks to glider vehicles.  Although a seemingly esoteric issue, the consequences of reversing the common sense 2016 standard are far from esoteric.  I am baffled and confounded as to why the EPA would even consider repealing such an important, well-designed and effective public health rule.

The EPA has been working for over a decade to control the levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter emitted from diesel engines because it is well-established that the public health consequences of these emissions are profoundly severe.  Both the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization list diesel exhaust as a Group 1 known carcinogen to human beings alongside things like asbestos, radiation and cigarette smoking.  Long-term exposure to diesel exhaust has been linked not only to the killer disease lung cancer but to stroke, heart disease, pulmonary disease, chronic respiratory illnesses, asthma, bronchitis, and chronic infections.  And while these killer conditions affect the whole population, they always pick off the weakest ones first: children, the elderly, the sick, people with compromised immune systems.

Thankfully, the EPA took action 10 years ago to dramatically reduce these deadly killers by establishing strong pollution controls on new diesel engines.  The trucking industry responded swiftly, unbegrudgingly and admirably to the new requirements such that today, NOx and particulate matter emissions from modern diesel engines are more than 90-percent below what they were 15 years ago.  That is a huge victory for the public health to eliminate so much toxic pollution.

With this success, I am mystified as to why the Pruitt EPA would consider reopening a loophole to allow outdated killer diesel engines to re-pollute our air in the form of glider vehicles.  Where is the lobby for turning the clock back to more and more deadly air pollution? 

As you know, glider kits permit older, dirtier engines to be reused in new truck bodies.  This means that glider trucks put decades-old engines back on the road--engines that emit particulate matter, a definite human lung carcinogen, and ozone precursors (NOx) at rates of concentration as much as 40 times higher than the pollution that the new diesel engines create.

Just one year of glider truck sales – approximately 10,000 trucks – will produce emission of ten times more NOx pollution over the truck’s lifetime than is emitted by all the “defeat device” Volkswagen vehicles in the U.S.  According to a conservative estimate by the EPA, one year’s worth of new glider truck sales would lead to as many as 1,600 premature deaths among women, men and children in our country.

The EPA rightfully took action last year to mostly close a loophole that had been allowing certain companies to put outdated, dirty engines into new truck bodies to escape public health regulations.  If the loophole does not remain closed in this reasonable way, it is estimated that by 2025, while gliders would represent just 5-percent of the long-haul trucks on the road, they would be responsible for fully 1/3 of all soot and NOx pollution produced by long-haul trucks.  These excess emissions would have serious adverse health consequences, producing around 12,800 deaths that we could have been prevented, in addition to countless additional emergency room admissions and incalculable numbers of health problems among our people.

Most of the industry, including Volvo, which has a presence in my home state of Maryland, opposes rolling back this regulation because it would lead to a sharply tilted playing field.  Large companies like Volvo and other high-road companies have long complied with and upheld the strict pro-public health emissions and fuel efficiency standards. Unsurprisingly, it is approximately 25-percent cheaper to build glider trucks, because they pay no mind to how much harmful pollution they spew into the atmosphere, giving gliders a decisive and unfair competitive advantage over their health-honoring competitors.  Reopening the glider loophole of low-road production would put the business investments of the high-road companies – and their employees’ jobs – at risk.

In a September 11th letter to the EPA, Volvo, Navistar and Cummins, Inc. wrote: “Glider kits should not be used for circumventing purchase of currently certified powertrains. The Phase 2 provisions as finalized maintain the glider kit option for the market while ensuring a level playing field for all manufacturers of trucks and engines.”  And even the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, the American Trucking Associations and the Truck Renting and Leasing Association have all voiced concern about the proposed exemption.

Gliders are not meant to compete with new trucks and new health standards, but they do serve a legitimate purpose for a small group of truckers who invested in dirtier engines before the change. Recognizing this reality, the EPA allowed a small-volume exemption for up to 300 vehicles, halting the rampant exploitation of the loophole while still maintaining a volume of gliders that could keep true “small businesses” in business.  This is a fair compromise that should be honored rather than repealed.

I can find no reason, much less a compelling one, to execute a sharp policy U-turn at this moment, except for the most abject and indefensible cronyism.  One of the largest manufacturers of gliders is a company called Fitzgerald Glider Kits, located in Tennessee. In fact, Fitzgerald is the ONLY small manufacturer with sales volumes above 300 vehicles per year, and therefore the only company that would benefit from the proposed reversal of this life-saving commonsense public health rule.

After failing to secure a legislative repeal of the glider kits rule via the annual appropriations process, Fitzgerald’s owners met directly with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in May of this year.  Lo and behold, just a few months later, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that he would be re-examining the glider provisions of the heavy-duty regulations.  The proposal largely mirrored the predictably suspect arguments from Fitzgerald’s petition for reconsideration.

Fitzgerald’s petition included new information on glider vehicle criteria pollutant emissions which purported to show that glider vehicles were less polluting than non-glider vehicles. It is important to note that the study, run by Tennessee Tech University (TTU), has been criticized by experts for its poor and shoddy quality and has provoked serious ethical questions about the University’s academic independence and its cozy relationship with Fitzgerald. Tennessee Tech University’s study was done at Fitzgerald’s request, paid for with grant money from Fitzgerald, conducted at Fitzgerald’s facility, and shortly after, like magic, Fitzgerald endowed TTU with a new research center.  Meantime, the independent professional experts at the EPA recently published the Agency’s own study of glider vehicle emission tests that directly contradicts TTU’s findings.

It isn’t clear who exactly benefits from all this backroom dealing (besides the small number of glider assemblers like Fitzgerald)—but it certainly isn’t the American people.  I urge the EPA to reject Fitzgerald’s attempt to repopulate our streets and highways with the oldest, dirtiest, and deadliest diesel engines and instead maintain the current glider kit rule, which is a fair and principled compromise in the public interest.