Today, the automotive enthusiast press went into a collective tizzy over a press release sent out by the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer's Association. In it, 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.

"EPA Seeks to Prohibit Conversion of Vehicles Into Racecars," SEMA's headline reads. But the reality of the legislation is a lot more nuanced than that.

Update, 2/9/16, 5:45PM: See the end of this post for further clarification from the EPA.

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.

Instead, the proposed language in the Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas rulemaking simply clarifies the distinction between motor vehicles and nonroad vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles.  Unlike motor vehicles – which include cars, light trucks, and highway motorcycles – nonroad vehicles may, under certain circumstances, be modified for use in competitive events in ways that would otherwise be prohibited by the Clean Air Act.

EPA is now reviewing public comments on this proposal.

In other words, the wording included in the bill, and highlighted by SEMA, is not a newly established rule outlawing a previously allowed activity. Instead, with this language, the EPA seeks only to clarify the wording of an existing law—one that has been in place for many years, and that apparently has not hampered our current culture of amateur or semi-professional competition using production road vehicles in any way.

What isn't clear is how the EPA's newly clarified language will affect hobby racers going forward. The draft, as far as we've seen, does not include any proposal for enforcement.  The law is not slated to go into effect until 2018, and it won't be retroactive. So even if it does pass as currently written, 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. That is, if the law passes at all.

We applaud SEMA for bringing this issue to light. Were it not for the organization's diligent analysis of vehicular legislation, none of us would even know about this issue—the EPA proposal was drafted in July 2015, and the public comment period opened and closed with no major coverage. SEMA has been pursuing the issue ever since, submitting comments on the original draft proposal and meeting with EPA agents to discuss the ramifications.

But as it stands right now, we don't know enough about the EPA's proposal to make broad-reaching conclusions about what it means for current or future racers. Currently, it's illegal under federal law to remove the emissions-controls devices from any car sold to be driven on the street, a fact that was true long before the EPA wrote this proposal. When was the last time you saw a track day, LeMons race, hillclimb, drag-strip meetup, or any other amateur racing event broken up by Feds?

R&T has reached out to the EPA for clarification on the law, the plans for enforcement, and what types of vehicles or competition might be exempted. Until then, let's not race to conclusions.

Update: EPA spokesperson Laura Allen provided this further clarification to R&T:

This clarification does not affect EPA's enforcement authority. It is still illegal to tamper with or defeat the emission control systems of motor vehicles. In the course of selecting cases for enforcement, the EPA has and will continue to consider 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 defeat emission control systems on vehicles used on public roads.

Emphasis added. From this, it sure sounds like (as we stated above) the EPA doesn't plan on confiscating your trailered, track-only race vehicle—only that, as has been the case since emissions regulation began, you're breaking the law if you remove federally-mandated emissions controls from your street-driven car.



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