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Experts Speak Out About Proposed EPA Changes

Experts Speak Out About Proposed EPA Changes

by February 12, 2016 0 comments

For racers, this week has been a bumpy ride. Since proposed new regulations from the EPA came to light on Tuesday, a state of confusion has persisted among lawyers, sanctioning bodies and regular good-old-boys wrenching on their short track car.

Though many in the industry have examined the 629-pages of regulations from environmental regulators, the bewilderment persists.

First, a quick refresher. On Wednesday The Fourth Turn published this article explaining the new regulations and how they affect racers. In short, depending on whose side you are on, the EPA is altering wording of its regulations regarding automotive emissions equipment to include any race car with street-car lineage. For decades, racers believed they were exempt from the strict regulations inside the Clean Air Act, since congress did not give the EPA authority to regulate competition-only vehicles. With the new regulations’ revised wording, the EPA claims race cars have never been covered by any exemption and are out of compliance.

The Fourth Turn contacted the EPA directly and asked for a clarification. Spokesperson Laura Allen said this interpretation of the regulations is correct.

“The proposed language seeks to clarify that the nonroad competition exemption is not available for motor vehicles,” she said.

In other words, according to the EPA, your race car is probably already illegal. Attorney Patrick Mulry, himself a racer, says the EPA’s evolved view of this exemption is startling.

“It’s disingenuous for the EPA to say (regulating competition-only vehicles) has always been in their power,” he said. “They are saying any vehicle that ever received a certificate of conformity must keep all its emissions equipment, or it is considered tampering. And you can never even change a certificate of conformity vehicle to a non-certified vehicle – for the life of the vehicle.”

If this interpretation of the Clean Air Act is upheld, it would be devastating to amateur racing, Mulry says. By this standard, everything from oval track Street Stocks to Legends cars with repurposed motorcycle engines would be out of compliance. Most road racing series also use factory-stock vehicles.

However, no sanctioning body would be more affected by the changes than the NHRA. Though not applying to Top Fuel dragsters or Funny Cars, NHRA spokesperson Terry Blount said the rules would hamper every other class from Pro Stock down.

“In all of those divisions, a lot of (our competitors) have modified their street car to drag race,” he said. “We have literally thousands of people who do this in a safe environment, under a sanctioning body that emphasizes safety.”

Blount says the NHRA is still trying to make sense of the proposed regulations. He doubts the EPA’s intent was to harm legal racers.

“The EPA has always supported racing and understood racing was a legitimate part of our culture – we really don’t believe their intent is to limit people from coming out and competing at sanctioned events,” Blount said. “It’s vague, and that is part of the problem. We are talking to them, and I think there will be some clarification there soon.”

The EPA’s Allen said violations of the Clean Air Act regarding competition-only vehicles have never been enforced, even though the federal government has the legal authority.

“EPA has not taken an enforcement action for tampering against a vehicle owner, where the owner has proven the tampered vehicle was used exclusively for racing,” Allen told The Fourth Turn.

A spokesperson for SEMA, the aftermarket parts trade group fighting the regulations, said individual racers probably wouldn’t be punished in the short term for racing cars that are out of compliance. However, he expects the EPA to crack down on companies that manufacture performance parts.

“The EPA is not actively targeting racers at the moment,” the statement said. “However, they are seeking compliance from the manufacturers, so we are addressing those concerns.”

Mulry said manufactures of everything from carburetors to fuel cells are affected by the proposed regulations. This week parts giants Holly Performance parts, Edlebrock and MSD Performance spoke out against the regulations on social media.

“They aren’t going to enforce this on amateur racers,” Mulry said. “They are going to come down on (parts manufactures) like Edlebrock. If you cut off the head of the snake, it kills the whole snake.”

Violators of the Clean Air Act are punishable by fines of up to $37,000 for each infraction.

What can racers do?
Mulry explained the EPA’s process for implementing the regulations. There were two public hearings held on the matter last August, but the issue involving auto racing wasn’t protested, since the language was hidden deep inside a 629-page document dealing with heavy equipment emissions.

For the most part, the public learned about this issue on Tuesday. In less than 24-hours, 100,000 people had signed this petition on whitehouse.gov. However, it’ll take thousands of concerned citizens calling members of congress and the senate to bring this issue to light in Washington.

Mulry said to write congress explaining the economic impact of these regulations. According to SEMA, the racing parts business is a $39 billion industry. In North Carolina alone, racing employs 27,000 people with an average salary of $71,000 and a yearly contribution of 5.9 billion dollars to the state economy.

EPA is currently considering comments on the regulations and will make a final decision in July. If changes to the auto racing exemption are upheld, it is likely SEMA will file an injunction through the court system.

Jason Beck
With a passion for both racing and writing, I've found my niche here at The Fourth Turn. In addition to covering local short track and Cup series racing, I'm a racer in the Charger class at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C.

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