Group Claims EPA Targets Racecars – Plans To Restrict Vehicle Conversions

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camaro racer brian lohnes imageRacecar fans and shade tree mechanics beware.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be gunning for your hot rod.

SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, issued a press release today warning that the EPA will seek to prohibit passenger cars from being modified for racing.  SEMA says that the proposed regulation clarification would also ban certain types of parts that are used to modify cars for performance and would make the sale of those parts illegal.  The clarification was part of the EPA’s proposal called, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles—Phase 2.”  Presently, modifying a passenger vehicle of any type in a way that over-rides its emissions control system is illegal if that vehicle is driven in public.  However, cars have long been modified for use on private racetracks.  This proposal would take steps to eliminate that type of conversion by clarifying an earlier EPA regulation.  We asked SEMA exactly what part of the regulation it was worried about.  SEMA sent us this clip from the regulation.  “Section 86.1854-12 is amended by adding paragraph (b)(5) to read as follows… Certified motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition or if they become nonroad vehicles or engines; anyone modifying a certified motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine for any reason is subject to the tampering and defeat device prohibitions of paragraph…”

We reached out to the EPA for clarification.  We asked if it was true that the EPA feels it has this authority, and if SEMA’s concerns were valid.  Laura Allen,Deputy Press Secretary at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replied to BestRide quickly and gave a very clear answer, saying:

“People may use EPA-certified motor vehicles for competition, but to protect public health from air pollution, the Clean Air Act has – since its inception – specifically prohibited tampering with or defeating the emission control systems on those vehicles. The proposed regulation that SEMA has commented on does not change this long-standing law, or approach.  Instead, the proposed language in the Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas rulemaking simply clarifies the distinction between motor vehicles and nonroad vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles.  Unlike motor vehicles – which include cars, light trucks, and highway motorcycles – nonroad vehicles may, under certain circumstances, be modified for use in competitive events in ways that would otherwise be prohibited by the Clean Air Act.  EPA is now reviewing public comments on this proposal.”

Chevy racecar Brian Lohnes image

SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting released a statement saying, “This proposed regulation represents overreaching by the agency, runs contrary to the law and defies decades of racing activity where EPA has acknowledged and allowed conversion of vehicles,” Kersting also added, “Congress did not intend the original Clean Air Act to extend to vehicles modified for racing and has re-enforced that intent on more than one occasion.”

Mirada rall image

To gain a better understanding of the issue, we spoke to Brian Lohnes, National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) announcer, editor and co-founder, and co-owner of East Coast Timing Association, a land speed racing sanctioning body.  Lohnes has been in communication with SEMA about this EPA proposal.  His concerns went beyond just the actual proposal to enforcement and oversight.  “How would the EPA institute a rule like this in states where there are no vehicle inspections?  Would they send some kind of new race-car police to the tracks on race nights?”  Lohnes says that this proposal could cast a wide net and include not just new vehicles that are bought with the intent of being raced professionally, but also older cars that hobbyists have converted and sunk a lot of money into already.

Patrick Rall, managing editor of Torque News and part-time drag racer, reiterated Lohnes’ concerns saying, “States like Michigan have no emission controls at all.  How would the EPA regulate the areas with no regulation control process in place?”

SEMA plans to lobby against the EPA proposal, and in its statement today said “SEMA will continue to oppose the regulation through the administrative process and will seek congressional support and judicial intervention as necessary. “ The EPA plans to release its final proposal in July of 2016 during the middle of the summer racing season.

Image credits:  BestRide Blog thumbnail image and last image courtesy of Patrick Rall.  Second and third images courtesy of Brian Lohnes.