EPA, SEMA at odds over proposed racecar rule

WASHINGTON — A potential EPA ban on many road-to-racecar conversions has touched off a battle with the aftermarket industry, whose trade group says the move would reverse decades of agency policy and deal a blow to auto racing and the parts market.

At issue is proposed language that would be added to existing auto emissions rules that ban tampering with or disabling emissions control systems on passenger cars and engines, including vehicles intended solely for racing.

An EPA spokeswoman says the new language merely clarifies a prohibition that has long been agency policy. But the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which represents aftermarket parts companies, sees it very differently. It has characterized the language as an overreach and an unfair reversal of the agency’s stance.

The EPA now is reviewing public comments about the proposal.

On its face, the EPA’s proposal appears to outlaw a practice that’s common among many enthusiasts who take cars once sold in dealerships and prepare them for racing by removing factory emissions systems to extract more power from their engines. It could also heighten agency scrutiny of auto aftermarket companies selling products that alter emissions controls, a sector that the EPA says is a priority in its enforcement work.

Rules governing many classes of amateur racing overseen by sanctioning bodies including the Sports Car Club of America and the National Auto Sport Association explicitly state that catalytic converters and other emissions controls may be removed from competition vehicles.

Steve McDonald, SEMA’s vice president of government affairs, said in an interview Tuesday that enacting the ban would be an about-face in the EPA’s treatment of street-to-race car conversions. He also said it would “devastate” motorsports and the $36 billion automotive aftermarket industry.

McDonald said racecars have historically been excluded from the EPA’s definition of a “motor vehicle” and that Congress has prohibited the EPA from regulating them.

“This is a change of heart in terms of their interpretation of the law,” he said.

Not so, says the EPA. In a statement, EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen said the language reflects current agency policy that tampering with passenger car emissions controls is prohibited by the Clean Air Act.

Clarifying language

Allen also said that the new language seeks to clarify current regulations, which allow for emissions modifications to dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles and other so-called nonroad vehicles for competition purposes, but do not extend the same treatment to road cars with EPA emissions certifications.

“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,” Allen said.

Under the proposal, racers or shops that make modifications to catalytic converters and other emissions controls on EPA-certified vehicles would face penalties, though the agency seems more likely to go after aftermarket companies selling products that alter emissions purportedly for racing but end up being used on road vehicles.

“In the course of selecting cases for enforcement, the EPA has and will continue to consider whether the tampered vehicle is used exclusively for competition,” Allen said. “The EPA remains primarily concerned with cases where the tampered vehicle is used on public roads, and more specifically with aftermarket manufacturers who sell devices that defeat emission control systems on vehicles used on public roads.”

The EPA rule is included in a single paragraph of the agency’s 629-page proposal to set 2021-2027 medium- and heavy-vehicle greenhouse gas targets. It was published in the Federal Register in July 2015. The EPA is expected to issue its final rule for the big truck standards in July.

You can reach Ryan Beene at rbeene@crain.com — Follow Ryan on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/RyanBeeneAN

What You Can Do:

In order to help get the bill passed, you can write your Congressional Reps and Senators to Support the RPM Act at www.sema.org/rpmletter.

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