EPA’s 2016 crackdown on race cars, explained

Is a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency really get in the way of your plans to turn your everyday driver into a track-only machine? It will, officials from aftermarket trade association SEMA and the EPA itself confirmed. Jalopnik today. Here’s what it all means.

This story was originally published on February 9, 2016

Last night SEMA announced a pending EPA rule thatin the interest of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, “would prohibit the conversion of vehicles originally designed for road use into racing cars” and “make it illegal to sell certain products intended for use on such vehicles”, on their terms.

Naturally, this set off a streak of controversy in the tuning and racing communities. Suddenly the ability to compete in grassroots racing series like LeMons, Spec E30, AER and more seemed in doubt. But it wasn’t immediately clear, in the pages and pages of proposed regulations and paperwork, what the rule change really meant.

In truth, SEMA’s assertion has to do with the EPA’s “clarification” – or modification, if you ask the association – of a longstanding provision of the Clean Air Act, which for decades has virtually ignored emissions from non-legal racing cars. Competition-only vehicles were previously excluded, but now the EPA claims authority over those types of vehicles, said Steve McDonald, SEMA vice president for government affairs.

“The EPA says we were wrong all along,” McDonald said. Jalopnik today.

The effect of this change, McDonald said, is not only the possible banning of non-emissions racing parts, but also the act of modifying your car in this way, although he admitted that the government is much more likely to go after parts manufacturers than individuals. (That’s why SEMA, which represents the aftermarket and lobbies on its behalf, is involved in the situation.)

In all 629 pages and thousands of words of the Federal Register where the rule is buriedperhaps none are as important as “off-road”.

The EPA has a very specific definition of “off-road vehicles.” Agricultural equipment, lawn mowers, industrial machinery, these are all off-road vehicles. The most important thing is that it’s not about cars – car emissions are regulated in a totally different way.

But, on page 40,539 of this Federal Register document, the EPA attempts to make this change, I point out:

Second, we propose to clarify the language describing how to handle the accuracy of emission results, both for measured values ​​and for the calculation of values ​​when applying a deterioration factor. This involves a new reference to rounding procedures in 40 CFR Part 1065 to replace references to deprecated ASTM procedures. The EPA proposes in 40 CFR 1037.601(a)(3) to clarify that the Clean Air Act does not authorize anyone to disable, remove, or render inoperative (that is to say, tampering) of emission controls on a motor vehicle certified for competition purposes. An existing provision of 40 CFR 1068.235 provides an exemption for non-road engines converted for competition use. This provision reflects the explicit exclusion of engines used solely for competition from the CAA definition of “non-road engine”. The proposed amendment clarifies that this Part 1068 exemption does not apply to motor vehicles.

Basically, the EPA wants to clarify that an exemption to turn off-road vehicles (and engines) into competitive vehicles does not do not apply to your tram, even if it is a track-only car.

McDonald said that for decades the Clean Air Act was supposed not to apply to competing vehicles, but now the EPA says it never did. Indeed, the EPA has confirmed this in its own statements to the public:

People can 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 circumventing air pollution control systems. emissions from these vehicles.

The proposed rulemaking commented on by SEMA does not change that long-standing law or approach. Instead, the proposed language in the heavy-duty greenhouse gas regulations simply clarifies the distinction between motor vehicles and off-road vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles. Unlike motor vehicles – which include cars, light trucks and on-road motorcycles – off-road vehicles may, under certain circumstances, be modified for use in competitive events in a manner that would otherwise be prohibited by the Clean Air Act.

The EPA also added this:

This clarification does not affect EPA’s enforcement authority. It is still illegal to modify or disable motor vehicle emission control systems. During enforcement case selection, the EPA has reviewed and will continue to review whether the tampered vehicle is used exclusively for competition.

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 override emission control systems on vehicles used on public roads. .

McDonald said the EPA also confirmed this to its association during a Jan. 20 meeting with the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“All I can tell you is that we went there with the intention of confirming whether (the EPA has sought) to prohibit the conversion of certified vehicles into race cars,” he said. . “They confirmed that.”

So what does all this mean? McDonald’s and SEMA fear a crackdown on manufacturing emissions-related parts for racing use. Previously, non-track-only vehicles could contain parts that did not meet emissions standards. The EPA has something else in mind now, and McDonald says it could put a meteor-sized dent in the $36 billion parts industry, not to mention base runners everywhere.

And it could still become technically illegal for someone to modify their car for racing in a way that doesn’t meet emissions regulations. A section of the document states that the EPA “may impose a civil penalty of up to $37,500 for each engine or equipment in violation”, although the EPA says it cares more about the use of these cars on public roads and manufacturers.

It should be noted again that this proposed rule deals specifically with emissions, not other racing modifications like suspensions or roll bars. But it’s hard to imagine a racing car performing at its full potential if its manufacturer has to worry about meeting emissions regulations, no matter what series it enters.

“Vehicles used on the street and on the track are limited by environmental regulations,” McDonald said. “We argue that if you convert a vehicle into a race car and it’s only tracked by a tracker, that’s ruled out.” But the EPA says it has always been that way, and the agency is simply clarifying the rule.

Additionally, SEMA accuses the EPA of essentially firing a quick shot at the auto parts industry and the public. McDonald said the provision was buried in an ‘unrelated’ set of greenhouse gas emissions rules for medium and heavy-duty vehicles last summer, which is why it took months for it become public. SEMA itself only heard about it late last year.

“We think the EPA has failed on all counts,” McDonald said. “They didn’t give the public enough notice.”

What happens now? McDonald’s said it’s a long process. The EPA could issue a final rule by July, or possibly longer. After that, it becomes law – no congressional approval is required. SEMA, however, will continue to oppose the effort through lobbying and possibly litigation.

As for the EPA, they will also be listening.

“(The agency) is considering public comments on this proposal,” she said in a statement.

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