An EPA ban could make converting a streetcar into a racecar illegal starting in 2018. The Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) seized upon an ambiguous EPA proposed regulation to prohibit conversion of vehicles originally designed for on-road use into racecars. SEMA pilloried the regulation as excessive government overreach.
In a press release titled EPA Seeks to Prohibit Conversion of Vehicles Into Racecars SEMA claims, “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.” SEMA shed light on a previously unpublicized bit of wording buried within a giant, 629-page proposal drafted by the EPA in July of 2015. In reality, the legislation is more nuanced than that.
EPA spokeswoman Laura Allen released the following statement on the recently uncovered EPA language:
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.
The agency claims the language simply clarifies the distinction between motor vehicles and nonroad vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles that may, under certain circumstances, be modified to use in competitive events in ways otherwise prohibited by the Clean Air Act.
In attempting to clarify the issue, the EPA unleashed a firestorm of controversy from the automotive press.
“It is clear that vehicles built or modified for racing, and not used on the streets, are not the “motor vehicles” that Congress intended to regulate,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting.
Automotive News points out, traditionally cars used only for racing are not held to the same emissions standards as stock vehicles, even if they were converted from stock vehicles.
It’s early, and many points surrounding this controversy are unexplained. We don’t know enough about the EPA’s proposal to make broad-reaching conclusions about what it means for current or future racers.
What We Know About The EPA Regulation
Several facts have become clear, however. First, it isn’t clear how the EPA’s newly clarified language will affect hobby racers going forward. The draft does not include any proposal for enforcement. When was the last time you saw a track day or any other amateur racing event broken up by Feds? Even Laura Allen states, “This clarification does not affect EPA’s enforcement authority.”
Second, as Tim Odell at Hooniverse points out, the law does not go into effect until 2018, and it won’t be retroactive. It will never apply to current racing-modified production cars, only to those produced in 2018 or later and purchased with the intent of being raced.
Third, the regulation would make the sale of certain products for use on modified production road vehicles illegal. The wording of the “clarification” reads, “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.”
Herein lies the rub. SEMA asserts it could put “a meteor-sized dent in the $36 billion parts industry—not to mention grassroots racers everywhere.” SEMA has to say that. Its mission is to represent the aftermarket manufacturers targeted by the EPA ruling. Racers or shops that make modifications to catalytic converters and other emissions controls on EPA-certified vehicles would face penalties. The EPA could assess a civil penalty up to $37,500 for each engine or piece of equipment in violation.
Fourth, interpreting the existing EPA regulations is ambiguous. 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 catalytic converters and other emissions controls may be removed from competition vehicles. This seems to fly in the face of the existing regulations, let alone the newly proposed ones.
Fifth, the EPA drafted the proposal in July 2015, and the public comment period opened and closed without major media coverage. It wasn’t immediately clear, in the pages and pages of regulations and proposed red tape, what the rule change really meant. It took SEMA six months to wade through the regulations to uncover this controversial clause. SEMA accused the EPA of hiding this proposed goal in a dense, esoteric, 629-page document in the Federal Register.
Express Your Opinion About The EPA Regulation
The EPA continues to work on the final regulation. It could issue a final rule by July, at the earliest. After that, it becomes law—no Congressional approval is required.
It’s hard to imagine a racecar performing to its full potential if its builder has to worry about meeting emissions regulations. If you are concerned about this issue, add your name to the petition to the White House to reverse the decision by clicking on the button.