2000: SEMA Action Network Year in Review (Man, have we been busy!)
Vehicle scrappage programs continued to dominate the agenda in the year 2000 as state legislators searched for additional ways to reduce pollution. The year also brought a series of significant legislative and regulatory accomplishments for the SEMA Action Network at the state and federal level.
Our successes during 2000 demonstrated the benefits of our partnership between Americas automobile hobbyist community and the aftermarket industry. Following are a few of these successes and a few setbacks.
Specially Constructed Vehicles: A bill that provided for the emissions certification and model-year designation of specially constructed vehicles (including homebuilt and kit cars) was vetoed by Governor Gray Davis. The governor claimed the bill would "slow the states progress toward clean air." With pressure from SEMA, the bill was amended in the legislature to delete the changes to California's current 30-year rolling emissions exemption. The measure rejected by the governor concerned only specially constructed vehicles.
Parts Recycling: SEMA-drafted legislation to mandate recycling of parts from vehicles destined for scrappage programs passed in the Assembly Transportation Committee. However, the measure was placed in the suspense file in the Appropriations Committee, due to the Air Resources Board's concerns about potential program costs. For practical purposes, this move killed the bill for the year.
Nitrous: Legislation that sought to limit the street use of nitrous oxide systems in vehicles operated on public roads died in the legislature. SEMA had succeeded in modifying the bill to protect manufacturers and hobbyists from a blanket ban. As introduced, the measure prohibited public road use of passenger cars or pickup trucks simply equipped with nitrous oxide. As amended, the mere presence of nitrous systems would not have constituted a violation.
Scrappage: The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) adopted a program to crush cars for emissions credits. In response to some of SEMA's concerns, IEPA excluded vehicles 25 years old or older from the program and provided that a vehicle may not be scrapped until 21 days after notification to parties with an interest in purchasing the vehicle or parts.
Scrappage: Despite SEMA Action Network objections, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a proposal to start a 3-year pilot program to scrap older vehicles. Under the program, owners of 1987 or older vehicles choosing to scrap their vehicles would be issued vouchers of up to $2,000 toward the purchase of a 1996 or later model car. Vehicle parts, except for the engine, could be recycled and sold. The program could stall in its tracks as legislators failed to allocate money to buy back the cars. SEMA has officially commented on the proposals shortcomings. We are also looking at having legislation introduced to eliminate or modify the program on behalf of Maine's vehicle hobbyist community.
Blue-Dot Taillights: The governor signed into law a Minnesota bill that would allow collector vehicles to display a blue-dot taillight. The legislation, supported by SEMA and endorsed by the Minnesota Street Rod Association (MSRA), gives street rodders the same rights already enjoyed by motorcycle enthusiasts throughout the state.
Nitrous Oxide: A bill that originally prohibited the highway operation of any motor vehicle equipped with a nitrous oxide system died when the legislature adjourned. The bill made exceptions for vehicles en route to or from a track where the vehicle is used for racing or those vehicles from which the nitrous container has been removed. Early in the process, SEMA was successful in amending the nitrous legislation to soften its effect.
Racetrack Noise: The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) withdrew its proposed rule to regulate racetrack noise. SEMA, NHRA and New Jersey SEMA Action Network members and clubs opposed the rule. New Jersey officials readopted existing noise rules (effective until May 19, 2005), including the current racetrack exemption that has been in effect since 1971. The DEP will continue reviewing the issue to determine if there are better approaches to regulating racetrack noise.
Scrappage: The Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) adopted a regulation to implement a vehicle scrappage program. Under the plan, vehicle parts may be recycled except the following items which must be destroyed: exhaust system (including the catalytic converter), tailpipe, muffler, exhaust inlet pipe, vapor storage canister, vapor liquid separator and resonator. SEMA will continue to analyze the program to identify weaknesses and inconsistencies and, if necessary, we will pursue a bill next January to repeal the program.
Scrappage: Legislation that sought to implement a scrappage program in Vermont was killed when the legislature adjourned without taking action on the measure. Under the bill, a pollution surcharge and a tax on diesel fuel would have financed the scrappage program.
Emissions Exemptions: SEMA-supported legislation to exempt vehicles 25 years old and older from the states mandatory emissions inspection program was signed into law. Previous law in Virginia only exempted vehicles manufactured prior to the 1968 model year from emissions inspections. The new law provides a rolling 25-year exemption that would excuse pre-1975 vehicles from inspection upon enactment and pick up an additional model year for each year the law is in effect.
In 2000, SEMA supported and opposed legislation and regulations on issues ranging from air quality standards to vehicle safety equipment. In the year 2001, we can expect more federal activity on many of the same issues. The following is a brief update on what was settled (for now) and what we might see happen in the new year.
Federal Rollover Rating System:
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) will institute a rollover rating system for passenger vehicles starting in early 2001. The rating system will be determined by dividing one-half of a vehicles track width by the height of the center of gravity. The resulting number will be converted into a five-star rating scale where fewer stars will mean greater tendency to roll. Taller and narrower vehicles will have fewer stars than shorter and wider vehicles. Complicating the matter, Congress just passed another bill ordering NHTSA to also develop a dynamic or handling tests to determine rollover propensity.
SEMA remains convinced that vehicle rollover is overwhelmingly due to driver error and weather and road conditions rather than vehicle design. We will continue to monitor federal rollover actions to make sure that consumer vehicle choice and common sense prevails.
Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards:
Lawmakers have agreed to another 1-year freeze of CAFE standards at 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 for light trucks and SUVs. In exchange, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will study the affects stricter CAFE standards would have on motor vehicle safety, the environment, the economy and the automotive industry. SEMA has argued that consumer options in this popular market will suffer if manufacturers are forced to downsize, underpower or eliminate these vehicles in order to meet CAFE standards.
Clean Air Standards:
The Clean Air Act may be revisited in the upcoming Congressional session. SEMA hopes any new legislation will cast a more friendly eye toward the vehicle hobbies. In addition, the Supreme Court will issue a decision in 2001 on whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have conducted a cost-benefit analysis before it issued new air pollution standards for ozone and particulate matter. Bottom line: SEMA is concerned that EPA did not carefully consider the affects on the vehicle industry and the vehicle hobby when it instituted these new rules. Tighter air quality rules set the stage for state and local scrappage programs.
U.S. Forest Service Policies Threaten Off-Highway Vehicle Enthusiasts
By Carla Boucher, United Four Wheel Drive Associations
Off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation is facing the loss of nearly all access on public lands. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has three policies being developed right now, all dealing with managing our national forests. Each of these policies will have a potentially devastating affect on the OHV enthusiast community.
First, USFS "Roads Policy" hopes to close all "unneeded" roads on public land. According to the USFS, each year Congress gives it only enough funding to maintain 125,000 miles of roads out of 373,000 miles total -- leaving 248,000 miles it cannot afford to maintain, and likely will close to OHV enthusiasts.
Second, USFS "Planning Policy" looks to change the way forest plans are made. One of the many changes includes striving to return forests to the wilderness condition they were around the year 1565. Imagine what forest conditions were like in 1565 -- 300 years before Lewis and Clark, 400 years before the steam engine and 200 years before electricity. Under this unrealistic plan, our national forests would somehow return to a state untouched by man or any technological means. This policy will certainly be easier to implement if the Roads Policy closes 248,000-plus miles of roads!
Finally, the USFS "Roadless Conservation Policy" proposes to prohibit road building in Roadless and other "unroaded" areas in our national forest. Prohibiting more roads, in and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is how the USFS defines what a "road" is and when an area is considered "unroaded." Currently an area could be categorized as "unroaded" even if the area has hundreds of OHV roads on it, and those roads, under the Roads Policy, are slated for closing. Remember, the only reason the Forest Service has for categorizing an area as "Roadless" is to study its suitability for wilderness designation under USFS Planning Policy. No motorized or mechanized recreation is permitted in wilderness areas.
In a nutshell, the USFS is threatening the very future of legitimate OHV recreation: 1) The USFS Roads Policy would close 284,000-plus miles of roads. 2) The USFS Roadless Conservation Policy would categorize all these areas as Roadless and prohibit any new roads from ever being built. 3) The Planning Policy aims to return forests to a state found before any technology was invented. And all this will happen without Congress taking one vote to specifically approve these programs.
Colorado Considers Remote Sensing Emissions Program
Responding to a proposal by the Regional Air Quality Council, Colorado legislators are considering legislation to adopt the country's first operational remote sensing program in order to deal with Denver-area pollution. Remote sensing has been considered elsewhere in the U.S. but has not been effectively used in part due to concerns about "Big Brother" style abuse by government: Unbeknownst to drivers, remote sensing uses infrared light to measure exhaust from a vehicle's tailpipe and photographs the license plate. Presumably, those vehicles found to be polluting can be tracked down and ordered to undergo further emissions testing and repair.
At press time, remote sensing legislation had not yet been introduced in the Colorado legislature. SEMA will continue to monitor this situation to make sure that the concerns of automobile hobbyists, particularly antique and classic vehicle owners and owners of vehicles equipped with aftermarket performance equipment, are addressed in the context of any legislation promoting remote sensing.
Put SEMA on Your Mailing List, Etc.
We'd like to know what clubs and enthusiasts across the country are up to, and what issues concern club members and individual enthusiasts. Consider putting SEMA on your mailing list. Send correspondence to SEMA Action Network, 1317 F St., NW, Ste. 500, Washington, D.C. 20004. Clubs can also reach us via e-mail at email@example.com or by fax at 202/783-6024.
WE GET LETTERS
This is the first [November 2000, Driving Force] newsletter I have received and it is great. As a responsible real hot rodder, I will certainly be keeping a closer eye on our legislators. Even though the "scrappage for credits" law didn't pass in Texas, I will be writing Warren Chisum [the Texas legislator who introduced a scrappage bill in 1999] in the Texas legislature with my opposition to his position to help this kind of bill from being introduced again. Thanks again for the information.
(The Texas scrappage battle is not over. Texas decided to circumvent the will of the people and instituted a scrappage REGULATION this year. We hope Texas enthusiasts will be as supportive of a potential legislative effort to repeal this regulation as they were in opposition to Mr. Chisum's bill in 1999. -- Ed.)
Department of Corrections
I try to keep myself and my club informed on what's happening in Sacramento, Calif., and your newsletter goes a long way in doing just that. Thanks. Now, in your recent newsletter [October 2000, Driving Force] regarding the Eagle One award: you said that among last years winners was the Over the Hill Gang of Sacramento. Id like to correct that and let you know that we are the "Over the Hill Gang, San Bernardino." We are very proud of the award. Keep up the good work.
Emil Aznar, Run Chairman
Over the Hill Gang, San Bernardino
(Our apologies to Mr. Aznar and all the other deserving members of the Over the Hill Gang, SAN BERNARDINO. -- Ed.)
Upon reading your Driving Force bulletin of October 2000, it seems Ms. Erin Mulholland needs to do more research [RE: October 2000, Driving Force article, "Political Insight: Keeping the Hobby Alive"]. Mr. Don Manzullo (Congressman) of the 16th Illinois District is definitely not a democrat, but rather a republican. I have supported him for all his years in office, and he will certainly fight for our interests.
(October was a tough month for "Ed"...Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Tormohlen. -- Ed)