Four North Carolina lawmakers in Congress want federal officials to hit the brakes on an anti-pollution regulatory effort that some fear would prevent amateur race-car drivers from modifying motor vehicles’ engines.
Republican U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson and Patrick McHenry sponsored legislation this week that seeks to bar the federal Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to regulate competitive race cars. On Wednesday, Republican Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
Small-racetrack drivers and the businesses that sell aftermarket car parts have raised concerns about the issue recently.
The EPA has, for about 25 years, had the authority under federal law to ban engine or exhaust modifications that tamper with cars’ emissions-control systems. McHenry and Hudson’s proposed law would effectively walk back a part of the Clean Air Act to make sure hobbyist drivers cannot be fined for tampering with technology under their cars’ hoods. NASCAR cars already are exempt.
The Clean Air Act is a federal law designed to reduce toxins, smog and other air pollutants. Federal officials say cars and other modes of transportation are one of the leading contributors to global warming.
McHenry and Hudson say it has never been Congress’ intent with the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions-control modifications on competition cars.
Competition cars have historically been treated as exempt from the Clean Air Act
Although federal law does appear to give the EPA that authority, agency officials told McClatchy this week that they don’t target individual amateur race car drivers when enforcing the Clean Air Act and they don’t plan to start doing so.
Instead, the EPA is “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,” said spokeswoman Laura Allen.
The EPA’s targeting of companies that make so-called “defeat devices” is what’s riled a national business advocacy group – the Specialty Equipment Market Association. The group is lobbying against the EPA regulation and supports the bill McHenry introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday.
The Specialty Equipment Market Association takes issue with mention of competitive race cars and modified engines in an EPA document published last year. That document spells out new agency approaches to reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
$1.4 billionWorth of the industry supported by aftermarket auto-parts companies, which oppose the EPA’s proposed action
Although the EPA says the document and proposed new rules change nothing about the regulations for amateur race car drivers, the aftermarket advocacy group is raising alarms.
McHenry, from Denver, North Carolina, says the EPA is taking its regulatory power too far.
His bill is called the RPM Act, which stands for “Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports.” If the legislation becomes law, the EPA would not be able to regulate competitive race cars with modified emissions-control parts.
Already, cars with modified engines and parts that circumvent emissions control technology are banned from public roadways, and McHenry’s bill would not change that.
Opponents of the EPA’s proposed action say the agency is creating a new regulation and bypassing congressional intent with the Clean Air Act. But EPA officials say the rules under consideration seek only to distinguish between motor vehicles and other “nonroad” vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles.
Opponents of the EPA’s proposed action say the agency is creating a new regulation. But EPA officials say they seek only to distinguish between motor vehicles and other “nonroad” vehicles such as dirt bikes and snowmobiles.
“Nonroad” vehicles are exempt, under some circumstances, from the Clean Air Act. The cars NASCAR uses already are exempt from the Clean Air Act, because those vehicle engines were not originally manufactured for use on public roadways.
Hudson, who lives in Concord – home of the Charlotte Motor Speedway and NASCAR’s popular Coca-Cola 600 – is a motorsports enthusiast, and he says he represents many fans in North Carolina.
In a statement Tuesday, Hudson called the EPA’s proposed rule “ridiculous government overreach” that threatens “the future of racing.”
The Specialty Equipment Market Association says the companies it represents support a $1.4 billion industry, selling car racing products and aftermarket vehicle parts. The business association contends that the EPA rule under consideration would make it illegal for businesses to sell car parts intended to convert traditional production engines to engines that don’t meet emissions standards.
The EPA intends to finalize its proposed regulations this summer and it has reopened public comment on the issue.
Three other congressmen have signed McHenry’s bill: U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, Bill Posey, R-Fla., and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., are co-sponsoring the Senate version.
Burr and Tillis on Wednesday decried what they called overreach from President Barack Obama and the EPA.
Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has also sounded alarms about the EPA’s proposed rule. His campaign has urged supporters to sign an online petition formed under the White House’s “We the People” website.
The petition has enough signatures to ensure that the White House will respond to the request, though the signatures do not guarantee the EPA will pull back on its proposed regulation.