A study that played a key role in a recent EPA proposal to roll back glider kit restrictions has come under fire by the faculty of the Tennessee unversity that conducted it. Photo: Tom Berg

A study that played a key role in a recent EPA proposal to roll back glider kit restrictions has come under fire by the faculty of the Tennessee unversity that conducted it. Photo: Tom Berg

A Tennessee Technical University study that was funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits and played a key role in reintroducing a glider kit loophole to the 2017 greenhouse gas regulations is being called into question by the faculty of TTU, who say that the questionable study hurts the reputation of the university.

After the Environmental Defense Fund attacked the study’s credibility earlier this year, the faculty of TTU requested an investigation into the study from the university president Phil Oldham that would submit the study to peer review, according to a report in the Herald Citizen. The study was conducted by TTU’s associate vice president of research Tom Brewer, who the faculty asked to be suspended pending the investigation’s outcome.

In addition to funding the research, Fitzgerald announced around the same time period in late 2017 that it would be building a new academic research center for TTU.

In the TTU faculty’s request to investigate the University’s study, it stated, “Our reputation and integrity as an institution and, by extension, the faculty, staff and students, are two of the most valuable assets of the university. Our reputation has recently been damaged because of a study funded by Fitzgerald Glider Kits and used to influence federal policy.”

The study in question purported to show that glider kits would not have a significant environmental impact and may actually pollute less than modern engines, going against an Obama-era EPA study that determined the opposite. The TTU study was used by Fitzgerald when it petitioned the EPA for the repeal of regulations restricting the use of glider kits under GHG Phase 2.

The study was also featured prominently in a recent Trump administration EPA proposal to repeal the glider kit restrictions, seeming to indicate that the agency, now led by Scott Pruitt, agreed with Fitzgerald’s reasoning.

During the Obama administration, the EPA capped the number of glider kits produced by any one company at 300 per year after a surge in production following the latest greenhouse gas emissions regulations. Some truck owners have found putting older pre-emissions engines in new glider kits offers both up-front price savings and maintenance savings over later engines with troublesome emissions aftertreatment gear.

Undue political influence?

In a recent New York Times report, the newspaper examined the relationships between Fitzgerald Glider Kits with political figures that may have allowed it to curry favor with the EPA. The Times found that Fitzgerald donated $225,000 to Rep. Diane Black's (R-TN) campaign for governor. Black unsuccessfully pushed to keep the glider kit loophole intact in 2015 and also reportedly played a role in introducing the TTU report to Scott Pruitt prior to the EPA’s proposal to rollback restrictions.

A spokesperson for Black told the Times that she was not influenced by the campaign contributions and was merely supporting her constituents. Tommy Fitzgerald, the owner of Fitzgerald, also characterized Black’s actions as "good public policy" because of the number of jobs at stake as a result of the EPA’s decisions.

In addition to environmental interest groups, the glider kit loophole is opposed by some truck and engine manufacturers, such as Cummins, Volvo and Navistar, who say that the loophole unfairly favors groups that are skirting the official emissions regulations and may encourage more dealers to enter the glider business, further compounding the issue.