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Even with removal of racecar language from final EPA ruling, SEMA pushes pro-racing campaign

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Nowhere in this month’s issuance of new greenhouse gas standards for heavy-duty trucks by the Environmental Protection Agency does the agency ban the conversion of street cars into race cars, as the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association warned the agency intended to do earlier this year, yet SEMA officials continue to push for pro-racing legislation.

The rules, which the EPA published August 16 as the Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles, require unspecified increases in fuel mileage and a decrease in greenhouse gases of about 25 percent for over-the-road trucks, school buses, delivery trucks, and the like.

They do not include language that the EPA initially drafted last summer prohibiting tampering with emissions equipment even if those vehicles “are used solely for competition.” After a SEMA-led uproar this past spring against that language – which EPA officials said merely clarified earlier regulations against tampering or removing emissions equipment – the agency agreed in April to rescind the language.

“The Agency will continue to engage with the racing industry and others about ways to ensure that EPA supports racing and while maintaining the Agency’s focus where it has always been: reducing pollution from the cars and trucks that travel along America’s roadways and through our neighborhoods,” the EPA stated on its website when it issued the new standards.

And in the text of the regulations, the agency offered a clarification of its clarification: “EPA supports motorsports and its contributions to the American economy and communities all across the country. EPA’s focus is not (nor has it ever been) on vehicles built or used exclusively for racing, but on companies that violate the rules by making and selling products that disable pollution controls on motor vehicles used on public roads. These unlawful defeat devices lead to harmful pollution and adverse health effects. The proposed language was not intended to represent a change in the law or in EPA’s policies or practices towards dedicated competition vehicles. Since our attempt to clarify led to confusion, EPA has decided to eliminate the proposed language from the final rule.”

As interpreted by the Specialty Equipment Market Association, the now-removed language meant an overall prohibition of vehicles originally designed for on-road use being converted into race cars, an interpretation that SEMA claims will severely curtail the $36 billion automotive aftermarket parts industry.

“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 President and CEO Chris Kersting said at the time. “Congress did not intend the original Clean Air Act to extend to vehicles modified for racing.”

The existing law that the EPA seeks to amend, 40 CFR Section 86.1854-12(a)(3), prohibits anybody from removing, disabling, or bypassing emissions equipment on a motor vehicle, including its owner. Nowhere in that section does it exempt anybody building a competition vehicle from fines for removing emissions equipment. However, SEMA and its supporters have pointed to committee notes from the drafting of the 1970 amendments to the Clean Air Act that seem to support a competition exemption.

SEMA officials, who started a petition against the language and asked supporters to show their support for motorsports during the public comment period for the regulations (resulting in more than 40 pages’ worth of comments), have not yet commented on the finalized regulations. They have, however, continued to show support for the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016, a pair of bills in the House and Senate that aim to “exclude vehicles used solely for competition from certain provisions of the Clean Air Act” – that is, to formalize the competition exemption and to permanently put racecars out of the EPA’s reach.

To garner support for the RPM Act, SEMA officials have rallied on Capitol Hill and enlisted celebrities including Fast and the Furious actor Sung Kang, Courtney Hansen, Jessi Combs, and hot rod builder Jimmy Shine for a pro-RPM Act video.

Steve McDonald, SEMA’s vice president for government affairs, said SEMA still believes the RPM Act is necessary because “if you read the rationale behind removing that language, you’ll notice that the EPA doesn’t change their position. They still claim authority under the Clean Air Act for regulating parts destined for competition vehicles.”

Introduced in March, both RPM Act bills (H.R. 4715 and S. 2659) remain in committee. McDonald said he hopes that Congress will take up the bills after it returns from summer break and that the bills will move along before the end of the legislative session.