Andrew R. Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has 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.
Mr. Wheeler’s decision, outlined in a memo to his top air policy staff, formally vacates the move Mr. Pruitt made on his last day in office, earlier this month, before resigning amid a host of ethics investigations. Mr. Pruitt had told manufacturers that the agency would not enforce a cap on what are known as “glider” trucks — vehicles with older and less efficient engines installed.
“I have concluded that the application of current regulations to the glider industry does not represent the kind of extremely unusual circumstances that support the E.P.A.’s exercise of enforcement discretion,” Mr. Wheeler wrote.
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 stylistically by addressing his staff, issuing a public schedule of his activities and taking questions from journalists. The about-face on gliders represents the first sign that Mr. Wheeler may seek to distinguish himself from Mr. Pruitt on policy as well.
“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,” Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, 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.
Glider kits are new trucks that come without an engine or transmission — the name comes from the idea that they are engineless, like gliders. 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.
They currently account for about 5 percent of all heavy-duty trucks on the road. The Obama administration had estimated that, left unchecked, gliders could generate a third of the truck fleet’s soot and other pollutants that contribute to smog and acid rain, and sought to limit their annual production to 300 vehicles through the end of 2019.
Those restrictions were supported by a mix of public health and environmental organizations as well as major companies like United Parcel Service, the largest truck fleet owner, and Volvo Group, one of the largest truck manufacturers. But the E.P.A. under Mr. Pruitt began the process of repealing the rule after lobbying by a small set of manufacturers that sell glider trucks.
Mr. Pruitt resigned July 5, but before he left office he notified manufacturers that the agency would not enforce the caps. An agency spokeswoman also indicated the E.P.A. might formally delay the caps until December 2019, by which point it hoped to have them permanently repealed.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit stayed Mr. Pruitt’s loophole on July 18. Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, said in a statement that Mr. Wheeler’s decision to officially reverse course on the decision amounted to having “conceded defeat.”
Mr. Wheeler in the memo indicated that regulatory process to repeal the Obama-era rule will still move forward. But, he said, the E.P.A. will not offer any other “no action” assurance to companies. Instead the agency “shall continue to move as expeditiously as possible on a regulatory revision regarding the requirements that apply to the introduction of glider vehicles.”
Molly Block, an E.P.A. spokeswoman, confirmed the reversal and said Mr. Wheeler made the decision after consulting with agency staff and in light of pending administrative and judicial petitions and motions.
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