The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to repeal tighter emissions standards for truck components, a rule adopted in the final months of the Obama administration aimed at controlling traditional air pollutants as well as greenhouse-gas emissions linked to climate change.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who privately met in May with the manufacturer that stands to benefit most from the rule's repeal, suggested in August that he would reexamine the rule "in light of the significant issues raised" and see whether it is consistent with the agency's authority under the Clean Air Act.
The Office of Management and Budget has posted a notice saying that on Saturday it received the proposal to rescind the rule. Asked about the regulation, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said in an email, "EPA does not comment on items under interagency review."
Unlike some Obama-era regulations, the rule, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, has been widely embraced by the trucking industry.
The rule applies the standards now used for heavy-duty trucks to new truck components called gliders and trailers. A glider, or body, is the front of a truck, including the cab, which fits over the engine. Trailers are the storage components that make up most of the length of a truck.
Trucking companies can install an outdated engine into a new truck body and avoid regulations that would apply to an entirely new truck. Engine manufacturers and public health advocates are in favor of closing that loophole and applying pollution controls uniformly. Heavy-duty trucks have faced tighter emissions standards since 2004, though they have become more stringent over time, thereby widening the gap between new ones and truck bodies that contain older engines.
On Sept. 11, executives from three major heavy-truck and engine manufacturers — Volvo Group North America, Cummins and Navistar — wrote Pruitt urging him not to reopen the rule. It noted that the three companies were joining with the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association, the American Trucking Associations and the Truck Rental and Leasing Association in "voicing their concerns" about the move.
Glider kits, the three companies argued in their letter, "should not be used for circumventing purchase of currently certified power trains."
Pruitt met at EPA headquarters on May 8 with officials from Fitzgerald Truck Sales , the nation's largest manufacturer of gliders, according to his schedule . Officials from the company, which has lobbied to repeal the rule, did not respond to a call requesting comment.
When the rule was issued last fall, the EPA estimated that gliders and trailers using engines manufactured before 2002 produced emissions that were 20 to 40 times as high as those of trucks built today. In addition to greenhouse gases, exhaust from these heavy-duty trucks contains more nitrogen oxide, a component in smog, as well as fine particulate matter, or soot.
"They don't have modern pollution controls on them," said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association. "This is like a straight pipe."
The agency estimated that requiring new gliders and trailers to be used with modern engines in 2017 alone would prevent between 350 and 1,600 premature deaths over the lifetime of these vehicles, since soot and other air pollutants contribute to lung and heart disease.
The nitrogen oxide and soot that would continue to be released if the glider rule was eliminated would be equivalent to repealing the most recent carbon rules for cars and light trucks or existing power plants, according to EPA analyses.
In his statement in August, Pruitt said the agency intends "to initiate a rulemaking process that incorporates the latest technical data and is wholly consistent with our authority under the Clean Air Act."
But Frank O'Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch, said the EPA had used up-to-date data to fashion a rule that ensured all the major truck manufacturers were on a level playing field.
"Now, this would reinstate a loophole that would essentially go back to dirty old engines in a new frame," O'Donnell said.