A bipartisan group of senators has revived an effort to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency from raiding auto racing shops and imposing heavy fines on enthusiasts who modify amateur race cars.
The Recognizing Protection of Motorsports Act would offer new legal protections for auto racers to modify their street vehicles exclusively for competition. Additionally, the legislation would let businesses resume producing, installing and marketing parts for these vehicles.
The legislation is spearheaded in the upper chamber by Sens. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, and Jon Tester, Montana Democrat. A House companion bill by the same name was reintroduced in May.
The House and Senate bills, according to its authors, clarify that emissions-related changes to a street vehicle only intended for competition are legal under the Clean Air Act and should not be subject to EPA scrutiny.
“Folks in the motorsport community have always relied on the freedom to modify their vehicles to race and compete,” Mr. Tester said in a statement. “This legislation will codify that freedom into law by preventing unnecessary regulations on motorsport hobbyists, allowing amateurs and professionals alike to uphold tradition while still following the intent of the Clean Air Act.”
Mr. Burr agreed, calling amateur motor sports a “unique American pastime.”
“This bipartisan legislation provides certainty for folks who enjoy America’s long-held racing tradition, in the spirit Congress intended when it passed the Clean Air Act more than 50 years ago,” Mr. Burr said in a statement. “I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this common-sense legislation to protect the legacy of American motorsports for years to come.”
The Senate bill, when it was introduced in the last Congress, had 30 co-sponsors — 23 Republicans and seven Democrats. The current legislation includes co-sponsors Sens. Mark Kelly, Arizona Democrat; Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican; Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican; and Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, most of whom supported the bill when it was last proposed.
The House version, led by Reps. Patrick McHenry, North Carolina Republican, and Raul Ruiz, California Democrat, currently has 101 co-sponsors — 79 Republicans and 22 Democrats.
The RPM Act was first introduced in March 2016, after EPA officials first suggested making it illegal to alter street vehicles for the purpose of competition. The proposal was later withdrawn after then Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was questioned by lawmakers about it at a congressional hearing.
Despite its withdrawal, however, the EPA engaged in armed raids of auto modification shops around the country under its December 2020 National Compliance Initiative. The agency argues that under Title II of the Clean Air Act it is “authorized to set standards applicable to emissions from a variety of vehicles and engines.”
“Required emission controls often include filters and catalysts installed in the vehicle’s or engine’s exhaust system, as well as calibrations that manage fueling strategy and other operations in the engine itself,” the EPA declared.
“The CAA prohibits tampering with emissions controls, as well as manufacturing, selling and installing after-market devices intended to defeat those controls.”
As a result of the agency’s interpretation, high-performance auto shops catering to track racing vehicles were hit with heavy fines. The penalties, according to shop owners, could only be significantly reduced if they turned over information about their vendors and dealers.
Motor sports industry trade associations, including the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and the Performance Racing Industry (PRI), have long lobbied for legislative relief.
SEMA argues the $2 billion a year motor sports industry “involves tens of thousands of participants and vehicle owners each year” and the legislation “does not interfere with the EPA’s authority to enforce against individuals who illegally install race parts on vehicles driven on public roads and highways.”
However, SEMA notes, the majority of the 1,300 racetracks around the country are used by converted vehicles that the EPA considers to be illegal.