Screencap via YouTube

The Oversight Committee of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology held the first hearing yesterday on the bill that could prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from forcing many race cars to adhere to the same emissions standards as road cars. One entity was curiously not invited there to defend themselves: the EPA. [Update: Rep. Beyer of the committee noted later in the meeting that the EPA was invited, but the agency said that they would take three weeks to be ready. See note below.]

A few weeks ago, the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association (an aftermarket trade group most often abbreviated as SEMA) kicked off this whole debate after noticing several changes in the Clean Air Act. The regulations—which didn’t even seem entirely clear to the EPA—sought to clarify that road cars converted into race cars still had to adhere to their original road-car emissions standards.

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Thus, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016 (or RPM Act for short) was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate last week. It seeks to prevent cars used for competition only from being regulated by the EPA under certain provisions of the Clean Air Act—even if those race cars were originally manufactured as road cars.

The House committee hosted three experts to talk about the bill itself and explain what kind of impact the EPA’s proposed changes would have on the motorsports industry, the racing community and the environment.

Naturally, SEMA President and CEO Christopher Kersting was there, as SEMA has been one of the biggest opponents of the EPA’s move to make many modifications commonly done when using a former road car for competition illegal.

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Several speakers on both sides brought up the point that the EPA has never gone after race car owners specifically, and they’re right. It would be the SEMA member companies who manufacture “competition use only” parts who are the most likely to feel the regulatory heat if laws were tightened about the conversion of street cars into race cars. Many racing-oriented products could be outlawed in the United States as a result, and the ban on sales here would be a big dent in business.

National Speed Sport News president and racing broadcast personality Ralph Sheheen was there as well, arguing that amateur and lower-tier motorsports would be hit the hardest by any legislation that prevented or severely restricted the modification of cars that began as road cars.

Some during the hearing, including one member on the side opposing the bill, wondered aloud why the third guest wasn’t a representative of the EPA. After all, they’re the target of this RPM Act, aren’t they?

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Rep. Bill Posey had a less than flattering theory as to why the opposition chose to bring in Brent Yacobucci—a Section Research Manager for the Energy and Minerals Section of the Congressional Research Service—instead of a representative of the EPA:

There’s been two references to the fact that there’s not a representative from EPA here, and I just would like to remind everyone that the other side of the aisle had an opportunity to bring in whatever witnesses they desired to. They chose to bring in somebody from CRS.

Maybe that’s because the last couple times we had the director [or] secretary of EPA here, every time I asked her a question, she said, “I don’t know, I’m not a scientist,” but everything’s based in science. Maybe that’s why they chose not to have somebody from EPA here. At least we can get some answers from CRS.

Ouch. He has a point, though. If you’re arguing for additional restrictions on an entire industry, you better be able to back the point of doing so up with facts and data. Otherwise, everything you say will be ripped apart by industry representatives and lobbyists.

While Yacobucci was forced to limit his speech to the technical aspects of the proposed legislation within his area of expertise and refrain from taking one side or the other, he was able to give a good overview of the EPA’s proposed crackdown on race cars and possible regulatory compromises.

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Yacobucci described a difference in interpretation between the EPA and SEMA as being the heart of this matter. The EPA believes that there has never been any exemption for tampering with the emissions systems on race cars that were previously road cars (and thus, certified as compliant with federal emissions standards).

In other words, the EPA maintains that your race car’s emissions certification doesn’t automatically become null and void when you install a roll cage. Therefore, you tampering with its emissions kit is technically not legal—even though it’s been enforced with the same veracity as the law against ripping off a tag on a pillow.

One regulatory option Yacobucci described that could allow owners of race cars to have non-street-legal modifications was for the EPA to include language mandating that a vehicle owner must destroy the original emissions label attached to the vehicle to remove it as a road-going vehicle. Yacobucci also mentioned the exemption process for imported race cars as another possible model for a regulatory workaround, where owners report their non-street-legal vehicle to the EPA.

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Yesterday’s hearing can be watched here in its entirety, for the curious:

The full text of the House bill debated yesterday can also be found here.

Update: We’ve since noted it above, but a comment made by Rep. Beyer later in the hearing clarified that the minority party did attempt to invite the EPA, but originally thought that the majority would be inviting them to comment. When they learned that the majority party wouldn’t be inviting the EPA, the EPA claimed it was too late for them to be ready in time. Beyer explained:

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I’d like to first clarify ranking member Johnson’s testimony about the EPA being invited. Up until March 4, the minority committee staff was under the assumption that the majority actually intended to invite the EPA because it made the most sense to have them here.

When they found out on March 4 that the majority wasn’t going to invite [the EPA], they went to the EPA who said that it was going to take them three weeks to identify a witness, to write the testimony. Then they have to clear both the agency and the clear the OMB, and that the majority apparently knows that this is a three-week process.

So, that’s why they’re not here. I do hope that if we are the committee of markup for H.R. 4715 that the EPA has a chance to talk about the implications of 4715 on the people we actually want to enforce the law against, not the race car drivers.

So, was this an example of inner-committee sabotage, or was the EPA leaning on bureaucratic bulk to cleverly dodge the question, as commenter/legal mind Laycock de Normanville suggests they may have done? Either way, it looks like the minority party will want to get that request in earlier next time.

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The title of this article has been changed (from “wasn’t invited” to “wasn’t available”) to reflect this. [H/T Laycock de Normanville]


Contact the author at stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.