EPA IG: Pruitt-led Glider Trucks Rollback Ignored Rulemaking Process, Lacked Transparency

Report also finds OMB to have illegally impeded OIG investigation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) and Tom Udall  (D – N.M.), top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, made a joint statement after the EPA Inspector General released the findings of its probe into EPA’s November 2017 proposal to repeal air emission standards for heavy-polluting “glider trucks.” This new report, requested by Senators Carper and Udall, revealed the troubling extent to which the Trump EPA went to break the law and abuse the regulatory process in order to benefit individual political benefactors from the glider truck industry.

The report relates to a November 2017 proposal by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, which would have repealed all federal emission standards for so-called “glider” vehicles. New glider trucks are often referred to as “zombie trucks” because, while they look new on the outside, on the inside they have old, dirty diesel engines that emit exponentially more pollution than modern trucks do.

As part of its investigation, the IG also obtained access to Scott Pruitt’s emails, including some but potentially not all emails deleted from his account.  According to the Inspector General, Scott Pruitt personally directed that this proposal be done “as quickly as possible without conducting the analyses required by [Executive Orders] 12866 and 13045,” which require cost-benefit analyses and analyses of the impacts on children’s health.  Emails from another EPA political appointee show that the agency did not conduct those economic or health analyses in part because they “would most likely not be as ‘supportive’ of the proposal as OMB and others,” presumably Pruitt, “might like.”  As the IG wrote, the Trump EPA “lacked transparency and deprived the public of required information.” 

“As the EPA Inspector General made clear, Scott Pruitt secretly orchestrated a legally and scientifically flawed process to undo protections against dirty glider trucks, a move that would undermine decades of clean air progress largely for the benefit of one politically connected company,” Senators Carper and Udall said in response to the report. “According to the report, Mr. Pruitt insisted that his staff plow ahead with this rollback without a cost-benefit analysis or children’s health impact assessment, as required by law. It is apparent that Mr. Pruitt was committed to seeing this through at the behest of this single company, regardless of what rules were broken along the way.

The senators continued, “The report unveiled another disturbing finding: EPA’s efforts were aided by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which impeded the IG’s investigation, covered up EPA’s wrongdoing and violated the law. Administrator Wheeler should do the right thing and immediately withdraw this dangerous, life-threatening proposal.  All Americans should applaud the work of EPA’s independent Inspector General in thoroughly investigating this abuse.”

The IG also found that that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB)’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) advised EPA to unlawfully change the status of the proposed rule in order to avoid establishing the economic justification required by Executive Orders 12866 and 13045. Specifically, the IG found that despite the health benefits of the existing rules being $6–$14 billion dollars a year—making their repeal clearly economically significant—political appointees in EPA’s Office of Policy changed the text the day before the rule was signed to say it was “not” economically significant.

The IG also found that OMB further violated the law when it impeded the IG investigation into OIRA’s role in the review and promulgation of the proposed Glider Rule. When the EPA IG requested that OMB provide specific responses and documentation related to OIRA’s role in the rulemaking, OMB refused, stating that the information was “particularly sensitive.” By failing to cooperate with the IG investigation, OMB violated the Inspector General Act of 1978. 

From a public health perspective, this proposal was one of the most reckless and dangerous efforts of Scott Pruitt’s short EPA career.  According to internal agency research not released until after EPA published this proposal, a new 2017 glider truck can emit up to 450 times the particulate matter (PM) pollution, and up to 43 times the nitrous oxide (NOx) pollution, of model year 2014 and 2015 trucks.  That is so much pollution that, in another EPA analysis, the agency concluded that if left unregulated glider trucks could be responsible for fully one-third of all heavy-duty truck emissions, even while constituting only 5% of the heavy-duty trucks on the road.  EPA concluded that those emissions could literally result in the deaths of thousands of people each year, not to mention increasing instances of lung cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and severe asthma attacks. 

In March 2018, Senators Carper and Udall requested documents and information from EPA that sparked the EPA IG’s own investigation. Months later, in December 2018, the EPA OIG agreed to Senators Carper and Udall’s request to broaden its investigation into matters related to the glider truck proposal.

Earlier this year, Congress was warned by the EPA IG that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was not cooperating with the probe. The EPA IG was able to complete the probe despite the months of obstruction by OMB.