Tennessee Truck Dealer Skirts Emission Standards with Legal Loophole

Fitzgerald Glider Kits has made a successful business out of selling dirty, outdated semi trucks as new vehicles.

Haulage Trucks, USA
Tim Graham & Getty Images

According to a report in The New York Times, the Fitzgerald truck dealership of Crossville, Tennessee, has been selling hundreds of semi trucks that do not meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s modern emission standards. These trucks pollute the air with over 20 times the amount of nitrogen oxide emitted by a modern diesel engine. Fitzgerald, and other dealers have been doing this for years, thanks to a legal loophole.

Fitzgerald specializes in vehicles known as “gliders.” A glider is a rolling chassis that the dealer purchases new from the manufacturer. They then install rebuilt engines, transmissions, and axles from salvage yards. The law allowing gliders to be sold as new trucks was first enacted as a way to make use of good components from wrecked vehicles. They’ve been useful for smaller trucking outfits, as they are cheaper to buy, operate, and maintain than a truck with a brand new engine. Unfortunately, this once-useful law has recently been abused by companies like Fitzgerald. 

In 2001, the EPA enacted new rules to drastically reduce diesel emissions created by buses and tractor-trailers. By 2010, all engine manufacturers had met that goal. Glider dealers responded by outfitting their vehicles with pre-2001 engines in an effort to ignore the EPA’s standards. This loophole has proved lucrative. Less than 1,000 gliders were sold in 2010. In 2015, that number had jumped to more than 10,000, and an EPA study estimated that while gliders made up two percent of new truck sales, they could be responsible for up to 50 percent of the nitrogen oxide emissions from cargo trucks. 

Also in 2015, The Obama administration drew up a plan to allow only 300 emissions-exempt gliders to be produced per year. More recently, current EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the rules limiting glider production would be completely rolled back. In Pruitt’s proposal, he cites a study conducted by Tennessee Tech University finding that gliders meet the modern standards. This study, however, was paid for by Fitzgerald and is now the subject of a misconduct investigation within Tennessee Tech. Moreover, a separate study carried out by EPA staff shows that the glider trucks emit 40 to 55 times more pollutants than a modern engine.

As of this writing, administrator Pruitt has not yet made a final decision on repealing the glider restriction.