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Govt. researcher: EPA had never permitted, prohibited race car conversions

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Still from House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology video.

In a hearing on the recently introduced bill crafted to exempt competition vehicles from the Clean Air Act, a government researcher called to testify noted that the issue boils down to a “difference in interpretation” between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Specialty Equipment Market Association and that, before last year, the EPA had never explicitly addressed the concept of race cars built from street cars.

Brent Yacobucci, an energy researcher with the Congressional Research Service, said Tuesday that his agency turned up no documentation from the EPA before 2015 that “explicitly stated that motor vehicles converted to racing were not eligible for exemption” from the Clean Air Act. “However, nor can the CRS identify any provisions in the act or regulations which would explicitly allow for a motor vehicle to be reclassified” into a non-road vehicle exempt from emissions laws, he said.

Yacobucci, testifying before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on House Resolution 4715, also known as the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016, said the EPA generally prohibits reclassifying vehicles from on-road to off-road use “for any purpose,” but because the agency never explicitly outlined how to convert an on-road motor vehicle into an off-road competition vehicle – as it had previously done with competition motorcycles – SEMA interpreted the EPA’s silence on the topic as permission to do so.

Spokespeople for the EPA maintained that language introduced in a regulatory proposal last year – which states that emissions control devices must remain in place even if motor vehicles are “used solely for competition or if they become nonroad vehicles” – was merely a clarification of existing law that prohibits tampering with or removing emissions equipment from vehicles originally equipped with it.

The EPA did not receive an invitation to Tuesday’s hearing.

Christopher Kersting, SEMA’s president and CEO, claimed that the Clean Air Act in fact doesn’t extend the EPA’s authority to competition vehicles. He referenced both a series of discussions entered into the legislative record during the Clean Air Act hearings as well as language in a 1990 extension of the EPA’s authority that “excludes vehicle solely used for competition.”

The EPA’s language in the regulatory proposal, Kersting said, “is an entirely novel interpretation of the law.”

Yet Yacobucci said that the EPA has historically used a consistent standard for determining whether a vehicle should be exempt from emissions laws.

“Going back as far as 1974, the EPA has maintained that it makes determinations on exclusions based on a vehicle’s design, not on its intended use,” he said. “Since that time the EPA has employed that test for a variety of uses, including offroad vehicles, kit cars, and imported race cars.”

Both Kersting and National Speed Sport News President Ralph Sheheen spoke in favor of House Resolution 4715, introduced last week, which aims to remove race cars from the Clean Air Act’s definition of “motor vehicle” and to exclude “any vehicle used solely for competition” from the Clean Air Act’s anti-tampering provision. A similar bill, S. 2659, was introduced in the Senate shortly afterward.

Kersting and Yacobucci both noted that the EPA intends to enforce the rule not by going after individual racers, rather by clamping down on aftermarket manufacturers and repair shops that sell or install parts that remove, bypass, or defeat factory-installed emissions equipment.

The EPA, which has re-opened the comment period on the proposed regulation until April 1, is set to adopt the regulation in July.