Tennessee Tech says portions of glider study were 'inaccurate'

By Mark Schremmer, Land Line associate editor | 10/24/2018

After an internal investigation, Tennessee Tech University has denounced portions of its study regarding glider vehicle emissions.

“The university has concluded its internal investigation and has found that certain conclusions reported in the June 2017 letter were not accurate,” Trudy Harper, vice chairman of Tennessee Tech’s board of trustees, wrote in a letter sent to Fitzgerald Glider Kits, the Environmental Protection Agency and Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.

The original study, which concluded that glider emissions were at or below the levels of new trucks, came under fire in February when a New York Times story questioned the university’s relationship with Crossville, Tenn.-based Fitzgerald Glider Kits. Soon after, Tennessee Tech University President Philip B. Oldham asked the EPA to withhold any use or reference of the study until a peer review was conducted.

In June 2017, Tennessee Tech sent a letter to Rep. Black that stated:

“The results of the emissions test were compared with the 2010 EPA emissions standards for heavy-duty vehicles. Our research showed that optimized and remanufactured 2002-07 engines and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) ‘certified’ engines performed equally as well and in some instances out-performed the OEM Engines.”

The peer review withdrew those findings.

“The university has determined that this statement is inaccurate in two respects,” Harper wrote. “First, the field-testing procedures used by Tennessee Tech in this research effort were not sufficient to justify comparisons with EPA emission standards. Second, following a review of the supporting data for these statements, Tennessee Tech has determined that the data does not support the statement that optimized and remanufactured engines performed equally as well as OEM ‘certified’ engines.

“The intent of the subject research was to conduct relative comparisons of emissions from OEM engines and engines remanufactured with the sponsoring company’s glider kits. These tests were intended only to establish a baseline comparison of the two groups of engines. The university’s review of the research has found that the research itself was methodologically sound and that the methods, methodology and measurements used were appropriate for the project based on the project’s original intent.”

In November 2017, the EPA issued a proposed rule to repeal emission requirements for gliders. The EPA said the proposal was based on an interpretation of the Clean Air Act under which “glider kits would not be treated as incomplete new motor vehicles.” Under the proposed interpretation, EPA would lack the authority to regulate gliders.

The proposed rule did cite the Tennessee Tech study was mentioned in a petition for reconsideration from representatives of the glider kit industry. However, the study was not included in the EPA’s “Basis for the Proposed Repeal” section. Simply, the proposal was based on the idea that gliders aren’t new trucks and shouldn’t be regulated as new trucks.

But there has been an abundance of controversy since the proposed repeal was announced about a year ago. It received significant opposition from environmental groups and was never elevated to a final rule after the comment period ended in January.  Last week, the EPA moved the glider rule to its “long-term actions” list.

In July, the EPA announced it would delay enforcement of a cap on the number of glider vehicles through 2019. However, the EPA and Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler reversed that decision on July 27 after environmentalist groups filed a lawsuit over the decision not to enforce the regulation. Under the current regulation, glider manufacturers are limited to building 300 trucks in 2018. Backing off enforcement would have meant that glider manufacturers could have produced as many gliders as they did in 2017, when they were limited to the number of gliders they built in their biggest production year between 2010 and 2014.

In addition, Tennessee Tech’s research wasn’t the only glider study to receive scrutiny. The Office of Inspector General for the EPA announced in September that it would investigate allegations that members of the agency colluded with Volvo representatives to prohibit the use of gliders.

The findings of the investigation have not been announced.

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