Energy & Environment

Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule

A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked a Trump administration policy that sought to ignore a regulation limiting sales of trucks that environmental groups called "super-polluting."

The policy memo at issue said EPA wouldn't enforce a 2016 regulation from the Obama administration that sought to put a cap on sales of "glider trucks," new heavy trucks with older chassis and engines that do not meet current air pollution rules.

Former EPA head Scott Pruitt issued the memo on July 6, the day he resigned from the agency.

In granting a Tuesday motion from green groups to stop the policy, a three-judge panel said the stay is intended "to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion."

Environmental groups had argued that the July 6 "no action assurance" memo is illegal because it essentially overturns a regulation without going through the usual process to do so, including giving public notice and taking comments.

The green groups argued further that allowing unlimited sales of glider trucks is a major threat to air quality, citing EPA's own research findings that found that gliders emit as much as 43 times the nitrogen oxides as new trucks and 55 times the particulate matter.

"The D.C. Circuit's swift action highlights the extreme nature of this lawless attempt to put more ultra-dirty trucks on our roads," Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said of the court's decision. The group is one of the organizations that sued over the policy.

"[Acting EPA Administrator] Andrew Wheeler didn't block Pruitt's putrid final shot at harming the American public, but the court did," Pardee said.

An EPA spokesman said only that the agency is reviewing the decision.

The court's ruling was 2 to 1. Judge Judith Rogers, nominated to the bench by President Clinton, ruled for the stay, along with Judge Robert Wilkins, nominated by President Obama. Judge Thomas Griffith, a President George W. Bush nominee, voted against it.

Glider trucks were once rare, seen as a way to reuse engines after trucks were damaged. But they exploded in popularity in recent years as EPA rules on truck emissions became more strict and old engines brought the prices of gliders down about 25 percent below new trucks.

EPA's research found much greater emissions from gliders, though Republicans in Congress are investigating the study and say influence from a lobbyist shows the study may not have met scientific standards.

Another study, completed by Tennessee Tech University and sponsored by Fitzgerald Glider Kits, found that gliders have similar or better emissions compared to new trucks. Fitzgerald is one of the nation's largest glider companies, and the university has asked EPA to stop using its research while it investigates potential scientific integrity issues with it.

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