Emissions Regulation Targets Are Defeat Devices, Motorcycles, Not Racing

Last week, the internet was up in arms after the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (SEMA) put out a press release stating that a proposed EPA emissions regulation was targeting racing. At the time we reported that the EPA had said the regulation is aimed at closing an exception for “nonroad engines” for vehicles such as off-road motorcycles and snowmobiles. However, we also noted that the ambiguity of the wording could leave it open to regulate production cars modified for racing.

The industry publication Automotive News (subscription only) reached out to the EPA and to a former EPA official, and both said racing isn’t the priority.

Laura Allen, the EPA’s deputy press secretary, said that “nonroad” vehicles means all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles ,and dirt bikes, and it doesn’t extend to motor vehicles. That makes sense as the disputed language was contained in a paragraph that referenced amendments to highway motorcycles.

Technically, modifying a car for racing by removing its emissions controls is already a violation of the Clean Air Act and has been for a long time. However, the EPA has never made it an enforcement priority and has never taken action against a vehicle owner who was able to prove that the vehicle in question was used exclusively for racing.

“The EPA 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,” Allen told Automotive News.

The EPA has gone after companies that sell aftermarket defeat devices, similar to the one used by Volkswagen to cheat the emissions procedure in its diesel cars.

Automotive News also spoke to Adam Kushner, an EPA enforcement official from 2003 to 2011 and now a partner at the law firm Hogan Lovell. Kushner says the VW scandal is affecting the EPA’s enforcement priorities. “EPA’s enforcement occurs in waves,” Kushner told Automotive News. “The times dictate what wave you’re going to ride. Right now, we’re on the defeat-device tampering wave.”

Given what we’ve learned since the SEMA press release, it appears that the EPA isn’t concerned with people who remove emissions controls from cars used exclusively in racing. However, any company selling defeat devices is subject to be targeted by the EPA.


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