Mod-shops push for protection from EPA

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Environmental Protection Agency regulations remaking the U.S. economy to fight global warming have taken a lickin’, but keep on tickin’. Despite automakers’ concerns that consumers aren’t buying battery-powered cars, the EPA will require that vehicles average over 50 mpg by 2025. And lawsuits by 24 states (including Michigan) backed by the coal industry have not deterred rules that have contributed to dozens of mining company bankruptcies.

One industry, however, has turned back the tide.

The $30 billion auto modification business this spring successfully forced EPA to withdraw language that would have banned the conversion of production cars to race cars, potentially putting jobs in jeopardy. Now these companies are on the cusp of engraving that success in law.

Members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association were in Michigan last week rallying support for the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (so-called RPM) Act which would “exclude vehicles used solely for competition from certain provisions of the Clean Air Act.”

Their efforts bore fruit Tuesday when Democratic Sen. Gary Peters pledged his support, joining six Republican House members from Michigan.

“This bill will provide certainty to the motorsport and racing industries on the EPA’s regulatory role regarding motor vehicles that are used exclusively for racing,” said the outspoken green senator who counts auto parts suppliers among his state constituents.

The bipartisan legislation, first reported by The Detroit News, has 125 co-sponsors in the U.S. House and 23 in the Senate. Since the 1970 Clean Air Act, the competition exemption was widely understood until the EPA inserted obscure new language that said “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.”

When SEMA discovered the change, a grassroots firestorm ensued.

The trade group confronted EPA regulators in a meeting. “We asked: ‘Is this what you really meant to do, because the world of motorsports is going to come unglued,’” recalls SEMA President Chris Kersting. An online petition gained 168,000 signatures.

“If that regulation had gone through, you would not have been able to convert a street vehicle for use in racing,” explains Kersting. “This was a real left-hand turn.”

The EPA said the Clean Air Act had always given it the authority to regulate racing. Not until House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman and Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did the agency reconsider.

“Although they withdrew the regulation, they continue to hold the position that their interpretation of the law is that converting cars for race use is illegal,” says Kersting. “Until that cloud of illegality is eliminated, everybody involved is operating with some trepidation.”

An EPA spokesperson said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

David Ziozios, CEO of Motovicity Distribution in Madison Heights, is a parts wholesaler representing 180 brands.

“This would be a complete job killer,” says Ziozios, who traveled to Washington to meet with Michigan’s delegation on the subject.

Ziozios says that if the EPA reinstated its language, “it would be completely detrimental to entire racing circuits in Michigan from GingerMan Raceway to Waterford Hills to Milan Dragway where most of the cars are converted production vehicles with VIN numbers.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at Twitter @HenryEPayne.