By Dave Cooke, Union of Concerned Scientists
Today, I am speaking at a public hearing at EPA to push back on the agency reopening a “zombie truck” loophole. I wrote about the political motivations behind the attack on public health previously, but we now have even more information about exactly how dirty these trucks are from an interesting source: the EPA itself.
A reminder about what is at stake
Glider vehicles are brand new trucks that are powered by a re-manufactured engine. While they look like every other new truck on the outside, on the inside they have engines which were manufactured under weaker pollution standards than other new trucks. Because they are resurrecting these older, more highly polluting engines from the dead, they are sometimes referred to as “zombie trucks.”
While initially glider trucks were used to replace vehicles whose bodies had been damaged, more recently a cottage industry has sprung up selling about 20 times more trucks than historic levels solely to bypass pollution restrictions.
In the “Phase II” heavy-duty vehicle regulations, the EPA closed the loophole that allowed these awful pollution spewers to be manufactured in the first place. However, Scott Pruitt’s EPA has proposed repealing this action, reopening the loophole primarily to benefit a company with political ties.
Dirty science for dirty trucks
In support of this repeal, Fitzgerald Trucks (the manufacturer requesting the loophole be reopened) submitted the results of a slapdash series of tests it claimed were from independent researchers. However, the tests were paid for by Fitzgerald and conducted using Fitzgerald’s equipment in Fitzgerald’s facilities. The results of the tests were incomplete and indicated that the work was sub-standard. However, we didn’t know just how unscientific the research was until EPA technical staff posted a memo detailing a meeting with the researchers. Here are just a few of the absurd shortcomings in the tests:
- Researchers did not use industry standard test procedure, so any numerical results could not be directly compared with regulatory requirements or literally any other research in the technical literature.
- Researchers did not actually take samples of soot during testing, despite the fact that this is not just carcinogenic but one of the specific pollutants at issue with these engines which causes such detrimental health impacts. Instead, they “visibly inspected” the test probe. Yes, you read that right–they just looked at it to see if it was dirty.
- Researchers did not test under any “cold start” conditions. Like when you first turn on your car, this is when the engine emits elevated levels of pollution, which is why it is a standard part of regulatory tests for both cars and trucks.
Believe me when I tell you that I could not get my doctorate if my lab work were of that low quality.
Ignoring the EPA’s own technical data
While pointing to the subpar Fitzgerald / Tennessee Tech data, the EPA was actually aware of much higher quality data being done at its own facilities. Instead of waiting for these tests to be completed, the politicos at EPA moved forward with the proposed repeal anyway.
Well, the results from those tests are in, and they are at least as bad as the EPA’s technical staff feared. In fact, it may be even worse:
- According to the test results, it appears that these engines actually exceed the legal limits they were initially designed for. This means that the “special programming” of the engine Fitzgerald claims to do to the engines may result in greater fuel economy, but it means greater pollution, too.
- The soot exhausted by these engines is so large that it caused a fault in the EPA’s equipment, after which the EPA had to adjust the throughput. A good comparison to this is like when you have your volume adjusted for a TV program you like and then suddenly a really loud commercial comes on…except now imagine that commercial just blew out your speakers.
- The two collectors on the left of this image are what happened when they first tried to collect the pollution from these vehicles; the two collectors on the right are what it looked like before the test. Now imagine what that experience must be like for the lungs of a child with asthma.
The EPA had already projected that every year of production of glider vehicles at today’s levels would result in as many as 1600 premature deaths–this new data suggests that number could be even higher.
The science is clear, so closing this loophole should be the easy thing to do.
I am speaking today at the hearing against because I want to make sure EPA listens to its own scientists and closes this loophole, to abide by its mission statement and protect human health and the environment. And today I will be among a chorus of dedicated citizens reminding the agency of its mission.