Black defends campaign checks, trucking emissions loophole
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black on Thursday defended her efforts to extend an emissions control loophole that benefits a trucking company associated with $225,000 in donations to her campaign for governor.
The New York Times reported this week that Black asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to continue the emissions exemptions for rebuilt diesel engines, which trucks from Byrdstown-based Fitzgerald Glider Kits use. “Glider kits” include a truck chassis and cab assembly without a new engine.
According to the Times, Black approached Pruitt with a Tennessee Technological University study funded by Fitzgerald that downplays the trucks’ pollution problems. Fitzgerald also promised to build the university a new research center on land owned by the company, the report says.
Black’s campaign spokesman Chris Hartline said the congresswoman fights to support the few companies trying to keep rural Tennessee manufacturing jobs. Hartline says Black has fought a President Barack Obama-era diesel emissions rule since 2014, and she believes “sensible regulators can promote safety and American manufacturing at the same time.”
“Diane does her best to help all constituents that walk through her door, regardless of their politics — that’s her job,” Hartline said in a statement.
Black also sponsored a bill in 2015 that sought to block the Obama administration’s push to close the loophole, but the effort failed.
Black received the $225,000 from entities, executives and relatives associated with Fitzgerald in the six weeks before Pruitt announced he would allow the exemption. The donations represent about 13 percent of more than $1.7 million Black raised from donors from August, when she entered the race, through mid-January.
Tennessee Democratic Party chairwoman Mary Mancini called Black’s behavior “pay to play.”
“Every Tennessean needs to know the air they breathe is safe and clean,” Mancini said in a statement. “It is extremely disturbing that Rep. Black would put families at higher risk of lung cancer and asthma in exchange for campaign contributions.”
Tommy Fitzgerald, one of the company’s owners, told The Times that it was good public policy, not special favors, that Black and Pruitt displayed.
Black is one of four leading Republicans in the governor’s race.
Businessman and former state economic development chief Randy Boyd’s campaign received $16,000 from a Fitzgerald family member and an affiliate in October and January, well after he left his state job last February. House Speaker Beth Harwell and businessman Bill Lee are also running.
The main Democrats running are former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.