Why Are Racing Enthusiasts Concerned About New Emissions Policies?
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Modifying car engines so they produce more power can be extremely harmful for the environment. However, racing enthusiasts are worried that banning this for race cars would threaten the existence of motorsports entirely.
If you’re caught racing illegally with modified parts, the seller of those parts can face jail time. It can also have a huge impact on your cost of car insurance.
According to the NY Times, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently enforced heavy restrictions on aftermarket auto parts makers. How can we find a way to have cleaner air and allow motorsports to remain?
What is the Clean Air Act?
The Clean Air Act was created to encourage companies to be more environmentally cautious and reduce harmful emissions. This affected not only consumer models of cars, but also buses, tractors, locomotive engines, and even lawn mowers. According to the EPA, cars today are 99% cleaner than the ones produced in the 70s.
The Clean Air Act also inspired automakers to create innovative new methods for powering their vehicles in more eco-friendly ways. Unfortunately, these strict regulations also create a tricky world for racing leagues to navigate.
The Clean Air Act has no exceptions for race cars
"Defeat devices" are used in race cars and commonly sold by aftermarket auto parts shops. A defeat device can be installed to allow the car to produce more power at the cost of more emissions.
The Clean Air Act states that no vehicle can have a defeat device, even ones that are only used for racing. Evan Belser, EPA deputy director of air enforcement, said that the EPA is not stopping amateur racing, but the agency reserves the right to go after converted race cars.
These devices modify the car’s emission controls either through an aftermarket exhaust that can be installed onto the vehicle, or electronically. The electronic devices take over the car's computer to replace the engine instructions and increase power but also pollution.
This software can be concealed, like it was in Volkswagen’s diesel scandal as reported by NY Times. After a thorough investigation in 2015, EPA found that around 590,000 VW vehicles were sold with defeat devices in the form of computer software. These vehicles release 40 times the emission standards allowed under the Clean Air Act.
In 2018, EPA started to enforce criminal charges on companies that sold aftermarket parts. EPA increased penalties such as the threat of jail for management. The companies worry that this is a ban on race cars altogether.
Can motorsports survive as America goes green?
The Special Equipment Market Association (SEMA) recently proposed the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act to allow modifications for vehicles that are only used for competition. This was passed as part of the House bill, but hasn’t been taken up by the Senate.
Clear policies around modifying cars for racing will have to be examined further to find a balance between keeping the air clean and allowing motorsports to stay alive.
Some race car leagues, like Formula One, are taking their own steps to reduce emissions. ESPN reports that F1 is aiming for a net zero-carbon footprint by 2030. It hopes to accomplish this by creating a zero-carbon hybrid engine for future race cars.
Reducing emissions is necessary to help reduce pollution in the atmosphere. However, SEMA says that if no street cars are allowed to become race cars, this would end amateur racing and the path to develop new pro racers.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) certifies products that follow Clean Air Act regulations. This is one way that modifying street car exhausts can be made legal. Shops that sell a racing part that is used illegally on a public road is subject to penalties.