The president of Tennessee Technical University, Philip Oldham, has asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to withhold any use or reference to a controversial study the university conducted on the environmental impact of glider kit vehicles until it has fully investigated the validity of the study's results.
The study, titled “Environmental & Economic Study of Glider Kit Assemblers,” came under fire after it was revealed that Fitzgerald Glider Kits funded the research, which was used to counter restrictions on glider kiit mnaufacturing put in plce by the Obama administration. According to a report by The Washington Post, Fitzgerald paid about $70,000 to finance the study and later agreed to build a new academic research center for TTU.
In a Feb. 19 letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt obtained by the New York Times, Oldham writes that “knowledgeable experts within the University have questioned the methodology and accuracy of the report,” and that the university would be pursuing a peer review of the study to assure its validity. He also sent the same letter to Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and to Tommy Fitzgerald, owner of Fitzgerald Glider Kits.
Oldham was under pressure by TTU's faculty to disavow the report and a letter that was sent to Rep. Black who used the information to fight the glider kit restrictions in Congress. The faculty said that the study damaged the university’s reputation and integrity.
A memo from the interim dean of TTU’s College of Engineering Darrell Hoy further detailed the allegations of misconduct in research pertaining to the glider kit study, which are being subjected to peer review. The memo states that no qualified, credentialed engineering faculty members oversaw the testing, verified data or calculations, or reviewed or took part in the writing of the final report that was submitted to Fitzgerald or to Rep. Black.
The results of the study purported to show that glider kits vehicles did not have a significant environmental impact when compared to modern, emissions-compliant trucks and engines. This contradicted a previous EPA study that found that NOx emissions from glider kit vehicles were around 40 times higher than those from compliant vehicles.
Fitzgerald used the study to support a petition arguing against EPA’s restrictions on glider kit manufacturing, which would have limited the number of glider kits it could produce to 300 per year. The study was also featured in a recent EPA proposal to roll back the restriction before being subjected to public comment.
In a statement to The New York Times, EPA downplayed the TTU study’s role, saying that it didn’t rely on the study or quote directly from it and that its proposal to reopen the glider kit loophole was based on the notion that the Obama-era EPA overstepped its legal authority to regulate them.
However, in the EPA's Nov. 16, 2017 proposal to repeal restrictions, the EPA mentions that petitions from the glider kit industry, which made extensive use of the Tennessee Tech study findings support one of its primary claims, had “raised significant questions regarding the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate gliders.”