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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler addresses staff at EPA headquarters in Washingto...

Wheeler breaks with Pruitt policy, saying EPA will enforce stricter pollution limits for glider trucks

Environmental Protection Agency acting chief Andrew Wheeler has withdrawn a break that the agency gave makers of higher-pollution diesel trucks on Scott Pruitt’s last day as agency administrator.

The EPA released a Wheeler directive Thursday night reversing one that Pruitt issued on July 6. Pruitt left office that day in the face of unrelenting allegations he misused his office for luxury perks and other personal and political gain.

Wheeler wrote in a memo that Pruitt appeared to have overstepped his authority in the July 6 order, which barred the agency from enforcing a cap imposed during the Obama administration on the annual production of higher-polluting tractor-trailers, known as glider trucks.

The EPA earlier had estimated that unchecked production of the gliders — new truck bodies retrofitted with older, dirtier-burning diesel engines — would cause 1,600 premature deaths annually from air pollution.

The reversal was one of Wheeler’s first breaks with the policies of his predecessor, who initiated changes that would redo the agency’s enforcement of key clean-water and clean-air laws and give industries and financial arguments more weight in regulatory decision-making overall. Wheeler, like Pruitt, says he supports President Donald Trump’s calls to trim regulations that he regards as unnecessarily burdening businesses.

READ MORE: All of the ways Scott Pruitt changed energy policy

The Obama-era rule limits manufacturers to producing no more than 300 glider truckers each year per company.

Fitzgerald Glider Kits, which says it is the leading U.S. producer of glider trucks, did not immediately respond to a call to its Tennessee offices seeking comment Friday.

While Wheeler said he disagreed with the method Pruitt used to stay the limits on glider trucks, an agency statement Friday made clear the agency will keep trying to ease the impact of the rule on glider makers.

“EPA will continue to work expeditiously to finalize a solution that provides regulatory relief and prevents any inadvertent economic harm to the glider industry while maintaining important air quality protections,” the statement said.

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called Pruitt’s glider order “one of the most egregious — and likely illegal — environmental proposals of his tenure.”