In a push to roll back an Obama-era ban on heavily polluting trucks, EPA Director Scott Pruitt ignored his own agency’s research on emissions, and turned instead to an industry-funded study that was so flawed, even the university that produced it has disavowed the findings.
Pruitt cited the study to justify his proposal to repeal air emissions standards for glider trucks, a type of truck that is advertised and sold as new, but is still equipped with an old diesel engine.
The trucks produce between 40 and 50 times as much harmful air pollution as trucks with more modern engines, and if left unregulated, could lead to an estimated 1,600 premature deaths annually and thousands of additional cases of heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and related health conditions.
That’s why President Obama’s EPA enacted regulations to get them off the roads.
But at the behest of right-wing activists and one very prominent Trump donor, Pruitt is pushing to undo the Obama-era emissions standard, justifying the move by citing a 2016 study from Tennessee Tech that found that gliders produce about the same levels of emissions as other trucks.
As it turns out, the largest manufacturer of gliders — a Tennessee-based company called Fitzgerald Glider Kits — bankrolled that study.
The owner of that company, Tennessee businessman Tommy Fitzgerald, is a GOP donor who has met privately with Pruitt and even held a campaign event for Trump, according to the LA Times.
When Tennessee Tech found out that the EPA was using the study to justify changing emissions guidelines in a way that would benefit the company that funded the research, university faculty and administrators started looking more closely at the research.
As the LA Times reports, “The faculty would soon learn the study was run by a university vice president who lacked any graduate level engineering training, and that it was conducted at a Fitzgerald-owned facility. Tennessee Tech’s president and Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.) — who has accepted more than $200,000 in political donations from Fitzgerald, his companies and top employees — had lobbied Pruitt to embrace the research.”
Major flaws were discovered in the research, which the head of Tennessee Tech’s engineering department denounced as “far-fetched” and “scientifically implausible.”
In response to these revelations, the university’s president sent a letter to Pruitt asking him not to rely on the results of the study, and the faculty senate passed a resolution demanding that the university withdraw the study and launch an investigation.
Tennessee Tech ultimately disavowed the study, saying there were serious concerns about “the methodology and accuracy” of the research, and that the EPA should not use it to inform new emissions guidance. The study is currently the subject of an official university investigation into research misconduct for failing to adhere to basic scientific standards.
Earlier this month, a series of newly released emails revealed that Pruitt’s EPA had worked with the White House to suppress a federal study that found dangerously high levels of toxic pollutants in U.S. drinking water.