Has the EPA Gone Too Far with New Race Car Emissions Regulations?

In a non-publicized action, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has moved to possibly impose stricter regulations on race cars that were once road legal. The move made by the environmental organization was first brought to light by SEMA, the trade organization that represents much of the aftermarket automotive community. The wording in question was buried on page 391 of a 629 page document, and placed in legislation not regarding passenger car standards, but commercial truck emissions.

Where SEMA believes the EPA oversteps its bounds is in a passage that reads, “Certified motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines and their emission control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition or if they become non-road vehicles or engines; anyone modifying a certified motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine for any reason is subject to the tampering and defeat device prohibitions of paragraph (a)(3) of this section and 42 U.S.C.”

Several news outlets, including SEMA, are confident that this passage would prohibit owners of road cars to alter a car’s emissions systems to compete in racing environments such as the 24hrs of LeMons, Chump Car, NASA, SCCA Club Racing, and AER, among others. Additionally, the passage in questions was included in the document with no title heading, no signifier in the document’s index, or even a page break to denote that this language was being included.

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There may still be a sliver of hope for tuners and owners of race cars, though, because other passages seemingly contradict the previous section. Specifically, the EPA document additionally states that “Competition engines/equipment: (i) For uncertified engines/equipment that are excluded or exempted as new engines/equipment from any requirements of this chapter because they are to be used solely for competition, you may not use any of them in a manner that is inconsistent with use solely for competition.” However, many crate engines available directly from the factory, such as Ford’s Coyote V-8, or Chevy’s LS series, reside somewhat in a gray area due to the engine’s emissions certifications.

It’s also unclear if this regulation would be retroactive or specifically regulate new vehicles, and how the EPA plans to enforce such a measure. Currently, the EPA doesn’t have the human resources to actively enforce a retroactive, or even a newly instated legislation covering vehicles that are no longer registered. The government agency would have to have representatives at every track around the country, constantly checking the stream of race-prepped vehicles.

SEMA however, sees things differently. According to SEMA’s President and CEO Chris Kersting, “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. Congress did not intend the original Clean Air Act to extend to vehicles modified for racing and has re-enforced that intent on more than one occasion.”

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When reached for comment, the EPA released this statement. “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 non-road vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles.”

According to this statement, the legislation regarding emissions standards has always maintained that all EPA certified engines and vehicles cannot have their emissions systems be modified for any use, although many do not believe this to be factual.

The EPA will continue to review public comments on the subject before making the agency’s final resolution in July of this year.

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