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In response to a revved-up grassroots racing community, a bipartisan bill was introduced this week which exempts the modification of production cars for competition from the Clean Air Act.

It comes in response to language issued by the Environmental Protection Agency that would make such changes illegal — an action critics said would reverse decades of precedent and threaten the $30 billion racing parts industry.

The Detroit News first reported last month that Congress was considering legislation after an online petition by the Specialty Equipment Manufacturing Association gathered more than 150,000 signatures.

“The EPA’s new interpretation of the Clean Air Act would essentially rewrite the law and 46 years of policy and practice,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting. “Without congressional intervention, the racing community and racing parts manufacturers would be operating outside of that new law and could be targeted for enforcement.”

The uproar came in response to language added to the Clean Air Act’s Heavy-Duty Greenhouse Gas rules that asserted “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.”

The EPA has downplayed the rule change. It says the agency “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.”

While not disputing the EPA’s responsibility to regulate cars modified for the street, opponents feared the agency’s language exposed parts makers to future regulation — in effect chilling the development of superchargers, turbochargers and other aftermarket equipment.

Introduced by Congressmen Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Bill Posey (R-Fla.) and Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y), the “Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act” would reiterate Congress’s decades-old intent to exclude off-road vehicles from the Clean Air Act.

An EPA representative said “the agency doesn’t comment on pending legislation.”

The proposed regulations are scheduled to be finalized this summer. The congressional action comes at a time when the EPA’s efforts to expand regulation of carbon dioxide from the automotive and energy sectors have provoked lawsuits and become an issue in the presidential campaign.

Republican candidate Marco Rubio responded to SEMA’s petition by calling for the EPA to revoke the rule. “For years, Marco has been talking about the EPA’s affinity for job-killing regulations, but they go after Americans’ hobbies with pointless power grabs, too,” the Florida senator posted on his website. “Now, the EPA is coming to your local race track.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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