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Manufacturers Bleed Jobs As They Wait For Trump To Roll Back Obama-Era Trucking Regulation

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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  • The Trump administration has stalled plans to roll back an Obama-era regulation limiting the number of glider trucks manufacturers can build, leaving the industry in a dire situation. 
  • Glider trucks, which combine refurbished engines with new body parts, are substantially cheaper to buy and were once growing in popularity.
  • But critics argue the trucks are environmentally unfriendly and successfully lobbied the Obama White House to label them as “new motor vehicles.”
  • The regulation has left numerous manufacturers reeling and slashing jobs, with one expert estimating that as many as 3,000 jobs have been cut, but the Trump administration appears unlikely to undo the rule. 

Glider truck manufacturers across the country are feeling the pinch of an Obama-era regulation, but relief for the industry may never come since the White House walked away from a planned rollback.

Manufacturers of glider kit trucks — trucks with new body parts, but refurbished engines — had high hopes when the Trump administration announced in July 2018 that it would not enforce a rule established under the Obama White House that limited their production numbers. However, after a defeat in federal court and the publication of a questionable emissions study, the administration no longer appears willing to rescind the regulation.

Now the companies that build glider trucks are staring into the abyss as they wait for a lifeline that may never come.

“It has negatively affected us,” Jerry Hoover, the founder of Ohio-based Hoover Trucks, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. While he hasn’t been forced to lay off any his workers yet, Hoover’s company hasn’t been able to expand, either. He has built hundreds of trucks, but when limits on how many glider trucks he can build goes into full effect in 2021, Hoover will have to restructure his business.

Trucks. Shutterstock

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“So right now, we’re limited to about 50% of what we could be doing, and that’s the way it’s been for the last couple of years since 2016, when Obama put the limits on it. Here, at the end of the year, we would’ve probably expanded. We probably would’ve added a number of jobs if the limitations wouldn’t have been put on, but we’re not going to be phasing out next year when it’s our last year of building gliders,” he said. “Our plans are to revert back to repairs and service work rather than the assembly of gliders.”

And Hoover has been one of the luckier ones. Glider truck manufacturers across the country have been forced to slash employment because of the regulation. Estimations on the number of jobs lost range as a high as 3,000.

“This job-saving deregulation could’ve provided [companies] a lot of financial prosperity, allowed them to keep their employees. And as a result of the [Environmental Protection Agency] not rescinding the rule, they have had to suffer financially and had to let go a significant portion of their workforce,” an expert on the issue said to the DCNF, speaking on background in order to talk freely.

The glider truck industry’s dark future is a complete about-face from just a few years ago, before the Obama rule.

Because they make use of a previously owned powertrain, glider vehicles are considerably less expensive than trucks with brand new engines. This cost-effectiveness, mixed with their durability on the road, made glider trucks increasingly popular with trucking companies. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that roughly 10,000 such trucks were manufactured a year in 2017 — up nearly tenfold from the 1,000 that were sold annually in 2007.

However, glider trucks have long been a target of environmentalist organizations who argue that they emit more pollution than newer vehicles. These groups scored a major victory when the Obama administration in 2016 deemed glider trucks to be “new motor vehicles,” putting the trucks under the purview of the Clean Air Act and allowing the EPA to immediately phase in a cap and ban.

Then came President Donald Trump. The Clean Power Plan, Waters of the United States, and so many other major Obama-era climate rules were put on the chopping block under the Republican president’s deregulation agenda. Among them was the regulation affecting glider kit trucks. As early as November 2017, the EPA proposed repealing the emissions standards for heavy-duty glider vehicles. And in July 2018, manufactures appeared all but certain to get relief when the EPA issued a “no action assurance” on the regulation.

However, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s postponement of the rule, arguing it would lead to a massive amount of pollution. A federal court issued a temporary stay that blocked the administration from not implementing it, handing Trump’s EPA an embarrassing loss.

Another setback came in the form of a 2017 EPA study which found that glider vehicles, when tested under highway conditions, emitted more than 50 times more particulate matter and more than 40 times more nitrogen oxide than newer trucks. The report effectively derailed the administration’s repeal efforts, but it later proved questionable. Emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act suggested EPA employees colluded with Volvo lobbyists to create the study. An article by the DCNF prompted several Republican lawmakers in June 2018 to call for the EPA to investigate the matter, which the EPA eventually did.

EPA. Shutterstock

United States Environmental Protection Agency logo visible on display screen. Shutterstock

Hopes for repeal plummeted when the EPA — now under the leadership of Administrator Andrew Wheeler — in July 2018 withdrew its “no action assurance” notice, deciding that current regulations on glider trucks did not need to be delayed.

“It’s very frustrating that you have to compete against Washington to support American workers,” George Cecala, a spokesman for Florida Republican Rep. Bill Posey, told the DCNF. Posey’s district, which sits along the state’s eastern coastline, is home to a large number of truckers, many of them small business owners themselves. Cecala said the district boasts more than 400 independent truckers in the district alone. (RELATED: Exxon Defeats Climate Crusading AG’s Attempt To Hold Big Oil Responsible For Duping Investors)

The area has already felt the impact of the glider truck regulation.

“We know one company that is an assembler that was looking to locate a plant in our district, but because of the rule, they ran out of resources to meet the demand of the contract that they were looking at,” Cecala said. “We would’ve created jobs and boosted the port in our area, but because of the rule, their company had to wind down, and then they lost the contract to a Chinese company.”

Nevertheless, hope remains in the industry that the White House will pick back up on efforts to repeal the rule. Numerous individuals who spoke with the DCNF said that the president is still supportive of a rollback, and that they are happy to urge him to continue fighting for repeal.

“The central theme of the president’s message – Make America Great Again – is putting the right kind of economic policy in place so that American businesses of all sizes can compete and expand,” Cecala went on. “So we think that the president is a supporter of this policy and we’re looking forward to making our case to him.”

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