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  • EPA vs. Diesel Performance – Finding a Better Way

EPA vs. Diesel Performance – Finding a Better Way

Diesel Performance Market Wants More Efficient Approval Process, Motorsports Exemption

Mar 28, 2016
Photographers: Courtesy of Banks Power, Diesel Power Archives, Courtesy of Snow Performance
From the modern automotive industry’s early days to now, there has been a delicate balance of power between original equipment manufacturers and government regulators regarding policies on vehicle emissions. While OEMs integrate compliance with federal standards into their corporate operations and accept it as a cost of doing business, the onus of regulation often falls much heavier on smaller companies with fewer resources than multibillion-dollar corporations, such as the thousands of aftermarket performance parts manufacturers.
In February 2016, the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) brought to attention the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed change to the Clean Air Act. SEMA saw the suggested amendment as a potential existential threat to the aftermarket performance industry, in language included in “Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium and Heavy-Duty Engines and Vehicles; Phase 2.” In a section of the document, the key line that set off alarm bells throughout the industry is: “If a motor vehicle is covered by a certificate of conformity at any point, there is no exemption from the tampering and defeat-device prohibitions that would allow for converting the engine or vehicle for competition use.”
In layman’s terms, if you had a car or truck that at any time was registered as a street-legal vehicle, it would remain subject to on-road regulations—even if it was repurposed for use solely as an off-highway competition vehicle. While working hard to comply with applicable state and federal regulations for on-road vehicles, the diesel performance and racing market accounts for multimillion dollars of sales. If the language proposed by the EPA were to become codified, suddenly, potentially thousands of vehicles at dragstrips, off-road trails, or dirt tracks would be considered illegal.
Photo 2/6   |   002 EPA Diesel Performance
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is the de facto agency for approving emissions-legal diesel performance products. Many makers of diesel performance parts have waited more than a year for official approval, even after exhaustive testing.

Officially, the EPA claims the proposed amendment is not a radical change from the status quo. “EPA proposed this clarification in the Phase 2 Heavy-Duty GHG rule because of a concern that other changes proposed in the rule might create confusion regarding how the Clean Air Act’s prohibition against tampering applies for vehicles used in racing,” says Laura Allen, a spokesperson for the agency. “In particular, we were concerned that readers might mistakenly believe that the Clean Air Act’s explicit exclusion of vehicles ‘used solely for competition’ from EPA’s non-road regulations (which is noted tangentially in the GHG rule) also applies for certified motor vehicles. It does not. This is true for all motor vehicles and motor-vehicle engines, including both light-duty and heavy-duty.”
Despite most interpretations of the original Clean Air Act, which infers a motorsports exemption, the EPA still claims authority over production-based modified vehicles used for motorsports, even if it rarely enforces the provision in that area. “This clarification does not affect EPA’s enforcement authority,” Laura says. “It is still illegal to tamper with or defeat the emission-control systems of motor vehicles. In the course of selecting cases for enforcement, the EPA has and will continue to consider whether the tampered vehicle is used exclusively for competition. 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.”
Ironically, as much as “rolling coal” has become a rite of passage among some diesel enthusiasts, the practice has had the unfortunate side effect of increasing scrutiny on the diesel performance community. It’s not only the negative public perception, but more importantly and critically, attention from government regulators. Many companies in the diesel performance industry contacted for this story declined to be quoted or included. Off the record, some noted their contempt for government regulations in general while others simply did not respond. The fact is, many performance parts manufacturers occupy an uneasy position, selling upgrades intended for track and off-road use that find their way onto street-driven trucks, including those that “roll coal.”
Buried Under Coal
Gale Banks, one of the early pioneers in the diesel performance aftermarket, says he believes the unintended consequence of diesel enthusiasts openly flouting emissions laws on public roads is bringing the heavy hand of government down ever harder on the industry. “They’re outlaws. Being outlaws is cool to them. If you confine it to events, cool. Outlaw is smoke. The EPA wants to shut it down, and how they’re doing it will bring down the entire industry. The smoke guys could bring down the entire automotive aftermarket. The regulation isn’t just diesel, it’s all automotive. It will make it illegal to make a race car out of a street car. The diesel smoke guys are like the red flag in front of the bull, and the bull is the EPA. It’s going after the flag with a vengeance. They’re really pressing for it.”
Photo 3/6   |   003 EPA Diesel Performance
Photo 4/6   |   004 EPA Diesel Performance
The first- and second-generation Banks Performance Sidewinder race trucks were specifically engineered for maximum performance with minimal smoke.

“The EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) were already in action prior to the public displays of rolling coal,” says Joe Komaromi, president of Pacific Performance and Engineering. “However, these actions have likely furthered their justification for enforcement.”
SEMA Vice President of Government Affairs Steve McDonald concurs with Gale’s assessment of the potentially devastating impact of the proposed regulations. “The proposal would make it illegal for an individual to convert his or her emissions-controlled motor vehicle into a vehicle to be used solely for competition. It would give the EPA the authority to enforce against aftermarket companies that sell parts for use on the converted vehicles and racers’ access to parts would be limited.”
With the help from SEMA and a handful of enthusiast-friendly legislators, the U.S. House of Representatives has introduced bill H.R. 4715, the Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act (or RPM Act, for short). The act specifically excludes production vehicles modified and repurposed for off-highway use from the enforcement provisions of the Clean Air Act.
The potential impact of the changes could also affect companies making emissions-compliant modifications. John Lambert, tuning manager at Hypertech, says provisions included in the proposed regulations could outlaw modifications to a vehicle’s engine control module, which is at the core of the business. John says the company has tried to act as a responsible member of the aftermarket community but is concerned the irresponsible behavior of some may be giving the entire industry a black eye. “Hypertech has never, and will never, create tuning to disable emissions equipment or turn a vehicle into a gross polluter, but it’s possible that our business will get caught up in the backlash in some way.”
More Government—Better for Industry?
In a somewhat ironic twist, several companies that develop and sell emissions-compliant performance upgrades say that increasing funding for CARB could make things easier for those in the aftermarket. With the harmonization of CARB and EPA standards to a large extent in 2014, the California agency has become the new de facto clearinghouse for emissions-friendly upgrades. Most companies that have regular interactions with the agency say they have a positive rapport and relationship, but that the agency is underfunded, understaffed, saddled with too many layers of procedure and regulation, and simply backlogged.
Photo 5/6   |   005 EPA Diesel Performance
EPA testing has shown water-methanol injection on diesel engines can dramatically reduce particulate and NOx emissions.

Jim McGinn, vice president of marketing at Powerteq, the parent company of DiabloSport, Superchips, and Edge Products, says the current testing and approval process for performance parts is broken. He believes the company has submitted products that are known to be in full compliance but has sometimes waited more than a year for final approval and issuance of an E.O. (executive order) number. “Somewhere along the way, the process is flawed,” Jim says. However, he doesn’t put the blame on the front line compliance testers, but rather with the regulatory burden they’re forced to comply with, which has increased since the Volkswagen emissions scandal. “We’re in good standing with CARB. The guy we deal with is super-friendly, but everything is under very high scrutiny. They want answers to specific questions now.”
Gale agrees that a more streamlined approval process will help alleviate the backlog of products waiting for final approval, which is the situation many companies are currently facing. “CARB is spending its money on attorneys and enforcement rather than on staffing. We need more staff at CARB. If you’re going to make the regulation, make it so that it can be complied with in a timely manner—at the speed of business. I’m big on emissions compliance. We develop these products and they’re market-ready. We know they pass, but there is no current path to timely compliance in a businesslike manner.”
Although the broader perception may be that products that increase engine performance also increase pollution, in some cases, there has been documentation that aftermarket products help diesel engines run cleaner. Matt Snow, president of Snow Performance, cites Department of Energy test results with a water-methanol injection system installed on an ISL 8.9L Cummins engine. Water-methanol injection reduced particulate matter emissions by 50 percent and NOx emissions by 70 percent. Despite water-methanol’s clean reputation, Matt acknowledges anything that impacts the diesel performance market at large could have a detrimental effect. “Anything that reduces the number of enthusiasts that buy aftermarket performance products is bad for us. If our dealers, distributors, and media outlets suffer, we suffer.”
Photo 6/6   |   006 EPA Diesel Performance
More Smoke ≠ More Power
Gale emphasizes that lots of smoke doesn’t equal lots of power, but rather lots of wasted power. He says that until recently, Gale Banks Engineering race trucks held diesel speed and drag race records and did it with minimal visible smoke. That’s because smoke is caused by excess fuel not being efficiently burned due to low compression or insufficient air supply. “It’s possible to run clean and set records. Guys blowing smoke didn’t break our records. Guys that did it our way broke records.” However, his disdain for rolling coal goes beyond an engineering critique. “Fundamentally, it’s bad engineering, but at the end of the day, it’s threatening our entire industry,” he says. However, Gale sees a change of mind taking place within the diesel enthusiast community about what constitutes diesel performance. “Back when we set the record with the Sidewinder [a Duramax-powered Chevrolet S-10], we played up that it was smoke-free. The industry excoriated me. Now you’ll see guys saying, ‘Look how cool, I did it smoke-free.’”
Keepin’ It Clean
Many major changes in society, culture, and common practices are often initially met with suspicion, hostility, and defiance until an unequivocally “better way” is demonstrated. The official regulation of the automotive industry has been in place for close to half a century now. Those who grew up in Southern California in the ’60s and ’70s know exactly how CARB came into being and how much cleaner the air in the region is today compared with decades past. Wanton rebellion against regulations may have a cathartic effect for those who feel disenfranchised by modern society and the trend toward collectivism, conformity, and submission, but when that behavior becomes a target for more intense scrutiny, enforcement, and punishment, we all suffer.
The RPM Act may be the last chance to halt the onslaught of the government against the enthusiast community for a generation. There is a place for “coal rolling” as a primal demonstration of power and rebellion, but that place is on the track, on the dragstrip, on the dyno, and at the stadium. As diesel enthusiasts, if we want to see the long-term survival of our hobby and community outside the confines of competition, it’s imperative that we be seen as responsible, fun-loving members of the enthusiast community—not antisocial menaces.
To show your support for the RPM Act, visit: http://semasan.com/issue_alert.asp?g=SEMAGA&issue=EPA&parent=SEMAGA

Sources

Snow Performance
Woodland Park, CO 80863
866-365-2762
www.snowperformance.net
Hypertech
Bartlett, TN 38133
901-382-8888
www.hypertech.com
Banks Power
Azusa, CA 91702
866-738-5915
http://www.bankspower.com
Powerteq
801-476-3343
http://powerteq.com/

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