“This simply doesn’t make any sense to me,” stated Christine Todd Whitman, who served as head of the E.P.A. through the first George W. Bush administration. “Everyone breathes the identical air, Democrats or Republicans. It doesn’t matter. That is about preserving folks wholesome.”
However the Fitzgerald household has had influential allies. Along with Mr. Pruitt, they embody Representative Diane Black, a Republican who’s a candidate for Tennessee governor, and Tennessee Technological College, a state college that produced a examine minimizing air pollution issues related to the vans.
Ms. Black introduced legislation in 2015 to guard the loophole when it was first in line to be eradicated by a stricter diesel emissions rule below the Obama administration. That invoice failed, however after the election of Mr. Trump, she turned to Mr. Pruitt to carve out an exemption to the brand new rule — scheduled to take impact final month — and offered him with the study from Tennessee Tech.
Fitzgerald had not solely paid for the study, which has roiled the college at Tennessee Tech and is the topic of an inside investigation, but it surely had additionally provided to build a new research center for the college on land owned by the corporate. And within the six weeks earlier than Mr. Pruitt introduced in November that he would grant the exemption, Fitzgerald enterprise entities, executives and relations contributed no less than $225,000 to Ms. Black’s marketing campaign for governor, campaign disclosure records present.
The a number of donors allowed the corporate to avoid a Tennessee state law supposed to restrict the dimensions of marketing campaign contributions by firms and political motion committees. The donations — lots of which got here via a sequence of restricted legal responsibility corporations tied to the household — represented 12 % of the cash Ms. Black had raised from outdoors sources via final month, the information present.
Tommy Fitzgerald, an proprietor of Fitzgerald, stated the actions by Ms. Black and Mr. Pruitt have been good public coverage and never particular favors to his firm.
“I don’t know why anybody would wish to kill all these jobs,” Mr. Fitzgerald stated, referring to the a number of hundred folks he stated he employs at his dealerships, lots of them in rural areas. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Chris Hartline, a spokesman for Ms. Black, stated the congresswoman had stood up for a constituent and was not influenced by the marketing campaign donations, which he stated complied with state legislation. “There are only a few corporations prepared to attempt to maintain manufacturing jobs in rural Tennessee at the moment, and Diane fights onerous to assist the few that do,” Mr. Hartline stated.
An E.P.A. spokeswoman, Liz Bowman, stated that Mr. Pruitt remained dedicated to defending clear air. However, she stated, he agreed with a authorized argument made by Ms. Black and Fitzgerald that the company didn’t have the authority to restrict gross sales.
“E.P.A. is performing on behalf of anybody who sees benefit in upholding and even perhaps bolstering the credibility of our legal guidelines and the position of Congress,” Ms. Bowman stated.
She stated that the cash donated to Ms. Black had no impression on the choice by Mr. Pruitt.
New Vehicles, Outdated Engines
The vans offered by Fitzgerald are generally known as “gliders” as a result of they’re manufactured with out engines and are later retrofitted with the rebuilt ones. Gliders are fashionable amongst small trucking corporations and particular person truck homeowners, who say they can’t afford to purchase or function autos with new engines and fashionable emissions controls.
The vans, which Fitzgerald claims burn much less gas per mile and are cheaper to restore, have been in the marketplace since no less than the 1970s. However after the federal authorities moved to pressure enhancements in truck emissions, with requirements that have been first enacted during the Clinton administration and took full impact by 2010, gliders grew to become a manner for trucking corporations to legally skirt the principles.
Sellers like Fitzgerald purchase truck our bodies from Peterbilt, Freightliner and different producers and sometimes set up 1990s-era engines, recovered from salvage yards, that its workers rebuild all the way down to their cores. The used engines and different remanufactured elements permit sellers to assert that the brand new vans predate emissions necessities, and due to this fact needs to be exempt.
Nationally, an estimated 10,000 glider trucks were sold in 2015 — or about four % of all new heavy-duty truck gross sales — the final full yr for which knowledge is accessible, up from fewer than 1,000 in 2010. Fitzgerald is the trade’s largest vendor in retrofitting the vans by promoting so-called glider equipment vans, for about $130,000. Fashionable vans, which additionally embody collision avoidance tools, price between $145,000 and $170,000, sellers stated.
“I hate authorities mandates,” stated Paul Bailey, a state senator and the operations supervisor at CB Trucking in Cookeville, Tenn., which hauls all the things from constructing provides to mustard in its fleet of 60 glider vans, two-thirds of which have been bought from Fitzgerald.
The glider vans benefit from different regulatory loopholes. Since a lot of the engines have been manufactured earlier than 1999, the vans are exempt from a federal law that went into effect in December supposed to stop accidents brought on by fatigued drivers. The legislation requires industrial truck drivers to make use of an digital logging system to trace what number of hours they spend behind the wheel, and to take necessary breaks. The legislation covers truck engines manufactured after 1999.
The glider vans, in some circumstances, also are not subject to a 12 percent federal excise tax imposed on truck gross sales, as a result of they aren’t thought of new vans. Ms. Black intervened with the Internal Revenue Service final yr, together with three different members of Congress, to guard that tax break.
A Fitzgerald salesman boasted final week that every one 150 vans on the corporate’s Crossville lot had been offered as trucking corporations rushed to keep away from the Obama-era emissions requirements and the digital monitoring rule.
“We can’t construct them fast sufficient,” stated the salesperson, Cody Poston. A second Fitzgerald salesman stated the corporate had pending buyer orders for 300 extra and had about 2,000 glider vans on the way in which to his gross sales lot.
Matt Moorehead, who helps preserve vans on the CB Trucking storage in Cookeville, stated glider vans permit small corporations and particular person drivers to compete with massive trucking corporations.
He stated the vans are simpler to restore and, by some accounts, burn much less diesel gas per mile. And by avoiding the digital monitoring system, drivers can proceed to make use of paper logs, which could be extra simply manipulated to permit flexibility in driving and relaxation occasions.
“Once you bought a load of eggs and milk to ship, these guidelines can pressure you to cease driving if you find yourself just some miles wanting your vacation spot,” he stated of the digital monitoring.
After E.P.A. officers, through the Obama administration, noticed a surge within the variety of glider vans being offered, the company moved to ban any firm from manufacturing greater than 300 of them per year, effectively killing the industry that had emerged to help sidestep the rules.
Fitzgerald, with Ms. Black’s assist, submitted a petition in July asking Mr. Pruitt to droop the cap and declare that every one gliders made by Fitzgerald and no less than two different sellers — Iowa-based Harrison Truck Facilities and Indiana Phoenix of Avilla, Ind. — be exempted as a result of the brand new emissions necessities utilized solely to “new motorcar engines.”
To bolster their argument, Fitzgerald submitted the study conducted by Tennessee Tech in late 2016. The examine, which Mr. Pruitt cited in the E.P.A.’s November announcement of the rollback, concluded that emissions from the corporate’s vans have been as clear as these with fashionable methods.
The push by Fitzgerald had began by Might, according to a calendar of Mr. Pruitt’s visitors, when Mr. Pruitt and his chief of employees met with executives from Fitzgerald and Donald Shandy, an Oklahoma lawyer who is aware of Mr. Pruitt from his tenure as Oklahoma’s legal professional normal.
Terry Dotson, president of Worldwide Tools Enterprises, a Kentucky-based chain of truck dealerships that sells autos with fashionable emissions controls, stated he remembered going into restore garages years in the past when it was onerous to breathe due to soot.
Mr. Dotson says he voted for President Trump and is a robust backer of the coal trade, which depends on his vans for mining operations. However he doesn’t agree with the administration’s carve-out for glider vans.
“I would like Mr. Fitzgerald to make a fortune and be a cheerful man,” Mr. Dotson stated outdoors one among his Knoxville, Tenn., dealerships. “However all people must play by the identical algorithm.”
Truck producers, in addition to transport corporations like UPS, concern everlasting loophole would encourage different truck sellers to enter the glider enterprise, additional undermining efforts to scale back well being hazards related to diesel exhaust and creating unfair competitors for them. The National Association of Clean Air Agencies, representing state regulators, and the attorneys normal from 12 states have joined in protesting the rollback.
Chet France, former director of evaluation and requirements on the E.P.A. Workplace of Transportation and Air High quality, says there are sufficient truck engines in salvage yards to assist the glider marketplace for many years.
“We’re speaking about super-polluting vans which can be going to place the well being of hundreds of individuals in danger,” stated Mr. France, who labored on the E.P.A. for 30 years below Democratic and Republican administrations and is a advisor to the Environmental Protection Fund. “And for what?”
The E.P.A. estimates that over the life of each 10,000 vans with out fashionable emissions methods, as much as 1,600 Americans would die prematurely, and hundreds extra would undergo quite a lot of illnesses together with bronchitis and coronary heart assaults, notably in cities with air air pollution related to diesel-powered trains, ships and energy vegetation.
The well being threats are brought on by nitrogen oxide and tiny particles of mud and soot that create haze within the air.
In November, simply days after Mr. Pruitt stated he would get rid of the glider cap, employees members on the E.P.A. submitted an analysis to the agency’s rule-making docket that contradicted the conclusions from Fitzgerald and Tennessee Tech that glider vans created no extra air pollution than vans with up to date emissions methods.
The evaluation stated E.P.A. exams discovered that the Fitzgerald vans emitted nitrogen oxide ranges throughout freeway operations that have been 43 occasions as excessive as these from vans with fashionable emissions management methods. The air air pollution from these glider vans was so unhealthy that one yr’s price of truck gross sales was estimated to launch 13 times as much nitrogen oxide as all the Volkswagen diesel vehicles with fraudulent emissions controls, a scheme that resulted in a legal case in opposition to the corporate and greater than $four billion in fines.
When testing the glider vans in stop-and-go site visitors, the E.P.A. report stated, the testing tools shut down due to the acute stage of particulates.
“The filters have been overloaded with particulate matter,” stated the report, which included a photograph of the white filter that had turned pitch black.
In current weeks, different questions have been raised concerning the accuracy of the Tennessee Tech examine, the position engineering consultants on the college performed in it, and the connection between Fitzgerald and the college.
The signature of Tennessee Tech’s president, Philip B. Oldham, appeared on the examine, which was included within the petition Fitzgerald submitted in July to get rid of the cap. In April, Mr. Oldham was photographed with Mr. Fitzgerald on the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, the place Fitzgerald sponsors the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300, a Nascar Xfinity Collection inventory automobile race. Mr. Oldham presided over an occasion on the college in August, the place Fitzgerald announced it would build a new academic research center for the college.
Some college members say the college seems to have been utilized by Fitzgerald as a part of its lobbying marketing campaign.
“Our status has lately been broken due to a examine funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits and used to affect federal coverage,” stated a faculty senate resolution passed late last month. Christy Killman, president of the college senate, stated the outcomes of the examine “raised a crimson flag.”
Mr. Oldham didn’t reply to a request for remark, however he despatched a letter to Ms. Killman this month confirming “misconduct in research” investigation had been began, on the college’s request, including that he wished to make sure the college’s status as an “sincere dealer of information.”
The general public remark interval on Mr. Pruitt’s intention to repeal the annual cap on glider vans has handed. Ms. Bowman, the E.P.A. spokeswoman, says the company is now reviewing the feedback earlier than Mr. Pruitt publicizes a remaining choice.
“Persevering with to enhance air high quality is a acknowledged precedence of Administrator Pruitt’s,” Ms. Bowman stated. “Any feedback acquired that elevate considerations with the flexibility to keep up that aim are carefully thought of and analyzed.”
At Fitzgerald’s gross sales lot, workers stated final week that there was no want to fret about air pollution from the vans, including that they’d emissions check outcomes to show it.
“They’re simply as clear,” Mr. Poston stated of the gliders, in contrast with fashionable vans, “if not cleaner.”