Lawmakers Clash on EPA Air Rule's Impact on Race Cars

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By Anthony Adragna

March 15 — House lawmakers went round in circles March 15 about whether proposed Environmental Protection Agency carbon dioxide emissions standards would effectively outlaw part of the amateur car racing industry.

Racing industry representatives and Republicans argued language in the proposed regulations would contradict decades of precedent under the Clean Air Act by having the EPA assert regulatory authority over vehicles no longer in use on roadways or for transportation. Democrats asserted the agency was attempting to clarify its long-standing interpretation of the statute and did not intend to pursue enforcement actions against individual car enthusiasts.

Heat and Light

“The EPA is seeking to change policy that has been in place for decades and does not explain the purpose for changing language to prohibit race cars from being emissions non-complaint,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight, said at a hearing. “It is our responsibility to shine a light on the EPA's attempt to eliminate a part of who we are as a nation with one sentence in an unrelated rule.”

Absent from the hearing was the EPA. After the initial uproar over the plan from the sports racing industry, the agency opted to reopen public comment on its proposed second phase of greenhouse gas emissions standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks until April 1 partially to get feedback on the issue .

‘Difference in Interpretation.'

Brent Yacobucci, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service, said the dispute might amount to a “difference of interpretation” between the EPA and the racing sports industry.

The Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 established the EPA's authority to regulate certain “nonroad vehicles,” but explicitly excluded “those used solely for competition” from those statutory requirements. Section 203 of the Clean Air Act makes it illegal to “bypass, defeat or render inoperative” any emissions control system in a vehicle.

According to EPA, the design of a vehicle is what determines whether it can be considered a “nonroad vehicle” and, therefore, exempt from emissions control tampering requirements. Industry groups argue the clear intention of the Clean Air Act amendments was for converted vehicles used only in races to always be exempted.

Both House and Senate lawmakers have introduced legislation—the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016, or RPM Act of 2016, (H.R. 4715; S. 2659)—to clarify that race cars are exempt from Clean Air Act prohibitions on tampering with pollution controls .

The race car issue arose as the EPA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pursues a broader regulatory effort to set combined greenhouse gas emissions and corporate average fuel economy standards (RIN 2060-AS16; RIN 2127-AL52) for model year 2021 through 2027 tractors and model year 2018 through 2027 trailers. Those standards are expected to be finalized in August.

Democrats Decry Hearing

Democrats on the subcommittee said the hearing was outside the panel's jurisdiction and criticized the fact that none of the witnesses were scientists.

“While I find this discussion interesting, I am not sure any of the issues we are discussing today fall within the jurisdiction of the science committee,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), subcommittee ranking member. “I am also disappointed that the majority chose not to invite any representative from the EPA as a witness today to actually help us understand their perspective.”

Republicans responded that Democrats on the committee could have called the EPA to testify, but instead elected to call Yacobucci of the CRS.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com