It’s being called “DIY Dieselgate,” and it could make the air people breathe a lot dirtier.

An entire section of the automotive industry—racing—has been exempt from the requirements for emission-control devices found on our everyday cars and trucks.

Race enthusiasts got worried early in 2016 when the EPA issued new regulatory language aimed at race vehicles that have had their emissions control devices tampered with that are then driven on public roads.

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The racing community revved up its anger machine, and the result is a new bill called the “Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act" that would ensure race vehicles do not fall under the Clean Air Act.

That may seem reasonable on its face, but the Union of Concerned Scientists is sounding the alarm that the defeat devices under discussion will not be used only by racers, since they are sometimes marketed to, “the general public who think it's fun to 'roll coal' and blow black smoke at Priuses.”

The UCS wants to ensure the general public is not allowed to buy these defeat devices, only racers, and that vehicles modified with them for racing are not found on public roads away from the race track.

If those vehicles do get used on public roads, that’s where we get into “DIY Dieselgate” territory, a phrase coined by the Sierra Club’s Alexandra Teitz at a recent Congressional hearing on the RPM Act.

Jann Mardenborough drives a Nissan GT-R around a racetrack with a video game control

Jann Mardenborough drives a Nissan GT-R around a racetrack with a video game control

Looking at the politics of the situation, the UCS says that as the bill is moving through the legislature, “so far, many in Congress are siding against clean air.”

Not surprisingly, SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, supports letting people mess with their emissions systems.

On the association’s website, it came out strongly in favor of the RPM Act: 

The "Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports (RPM) Act" clarifies that it is legal under federal law to modify the emissions system of a motor vehicle that is converted for using in racing only.

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If passed, the legislation claims it will protect Americans' right to modify street vehicles into dedicated race cars, and industry's right to sell the parts that enable racers to compete.

SEMA says twice that people should only modify emissions systems on vehicles, “used exclusively at the track,” but doesn’t say how such a limitation would be monitored.

The National Hot Rod Association is also asking its members to contact Congress to support the RPM Act, saying, “The bill provides a long-term promise that this American tradition of hot rodding will be able to continue.”

As if there’s no way to hot-rod an electric car.


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