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In effort to protect racers, backers of RPM Act accused of creating loopholes

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Just about everybody in Wednesday’s Congressional subcommittee hearing addressing the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act seemed to agree that nobody wants to bring an end to amateur racing and other forms of motorsports, but committee members and witnesses described the language of the act as overly broad and full of loopholes that would allow regular street-driven cars to bypass emissions controls.

“The concern with the bill isn’t whether racing conversions should be allowed,” said Alexandra Teitz, a lawyer testifying in front of the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on the Environment on behalf of the Sierra Club. “The concern is whether the bill removes the EPA’s authority to enforce against defeat devices that are sold to overcome motor vehicle emissions controls. Any manufacturer could sell any device that’s a kit to convert a car… or override controls, and as long as they say it’s for the purpose of racing, the EPA couldn’t enforce against it.”

Steve Page, the president and general manager of Sonoma Raceway, who testified in support of the RPM Act, said that the intent of the bill is simply to clarify that owners of cars used exclusively on race tracks can modify their cars’ emissions systems.

“It takes a cloud of illegality off the people who use our facility,” he said, noting that the EPA’s current position of the matter effectively “makes a majority of our customers into lawbreakers.”

Tietz said the EPA currently does not, nor does it have plans to prosecute individuals who modify their car’s emissions systems. Rather, the EPA is more concerned with manufacturers selling emissions defeat devices “in bulk.”

In response to the claim that the RPM Act creates loopholes, Page said that “nothing in the RPM Act allows modified cars to be used on the highway” and described the cars intended to benefit from the act in terms of slick tires, rollcages, loud exhausts, sponsor stickers, and trailered transport to and from the track. “If they leave the facility and hit public highways, you’d notice them,” he said.

Page did concede that the RPM Act doesn’t permit dual-usage street and track vehicles to remove emissions equipment, and said it “seems like a reasonable stipulation” to have any owner of a vehicle modified for racing to have to give up that car’s license plates and thus its ability to drive on the street. He also noted that the act was intended to mirror California state law that allows cars used exclusively on the race track to run modified emissions systems.

Tietz countered that the RPM Act includes no provisions for giving up plates or otherwise ensuring that cars with modified emissions systems aren’t driven on the street. In addition, she noted that California was able to pass such a law because the state conducts regular emissions inspections on cars registered to drive on its roads. “Many other areas of the country don’t have that safeguard,” she said.

As Dr. Rebecca Bascom, who testified on behalf of the American Thoracic Society, said, “We don’t have airport sniffing dog equivalents for pollution technology on cars.”

Along with three other bills, the subcommittee called the hearing to discuss the RPM Act’s potential for providing regulatory relief for small businesses. However, some subcommittee members were dubious about the bills: Representative Tony Cardenas described the bills as a whole as “a little too simplistic” while Representative Frank Pallone noted that any time a bill exempts a business from Clean Air Act rules “results in more pollution.” Representative Richard Hudson, on the other hand, declared the RPM Act “a commonsense piece of legislation.”

Nobody from the EPA or SEMA testified at Wednesday’s hearing.

Originally introduced in March 2016 and then re-introduced in both the House of Representatives (H.R. 350) and Senate (S. 203) this January, the RPM Act arose out of a dispute between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Specialty Equipment Market Association over a proposed EPA rule from July 2015 that prohibited tampering with emissions equipment even if those vehicles “are used solely for competition.” While the EPA removed that language in later drafts of that rule, SEMA representatives claimed that the agency continues to assert authority over aftermarket parts destined for competition vehicles.

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.

Both H.R. 350 and S. 203 remain in subcommittee.