United Four Wheel Drive Associations Sues Forest Service
By Melissa Balk
Many people enjoy exploring the wilderness of America's national forests by driving off-road vehicles (ORV) along roads originally constructed for logging. With the decline in the logging industry, these roads are gradually being closed by the U.S. Forest Service. This has alarmed many ORV enthusiasts who feel they have a right to enjoy the public lands of the national forests. Recently, the tension has increased and the United Four Wheel Drive Associations filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service to keep these roads open.
It all began in 1998 when the Forest Service issued a rule halting all road construction and maintenance in "roadless areas" for 18 months in order to conduct an environmental assessment. Ironically, due to a technical legal definition, the areas of the national forest that have the logging roads were nevertheless considered "roadless." The final environmental assessment redefined "roadless areas" as areas that do not contain any roads "intended for long-term highway use."
By issuing the ban and by creating the new definitions, the Forest Service set up a situation by which the logging roads can be left to deteriorate, without the maintenance that previously kept them clear for ORVs. The result is that if a road floods or is damaged by a storm, for example, ORV enthusiasts and campers will no longer be allowed to use it. "The Forest Service has defined our roads right out of existence," said Carla Boucher, legal counsel for the United Four Wheel Drive Associations. However, in the process of conducting the environmental assessment, the Forest Service neglected to solicit public comments, and federal law requires all federal agencies to take the public's opinion into account when implementing new rules, so the United Four Wheel Drive Associations filed suit. Additionally, the suit alleges that although only the Wilderness Act of 1964 and individual state wilderness acts are authorized to designate "wilderness areas," the Forest Service, by its actions, created de facto wilderness areas, committing an improper act for a federal agency.
In November 1999, the Forest Service announced its plans to propose a new rule that would permanently ban construction and maintenance of roads in roadless areas. This time, it accepted public comments until December 20, 1999. But, according to Boucher, the Forest Service is expected to issue a transportation rule that will use the latest technology available to decide where, when and how often to build, close and destroy roads. Since the transportation rule addresses road engineering, Boucher wants the Forest Service to give the public an opportunity to comment on the permanent ban after the release of the transportation rule. So Boucher requested that the Forest Service extend the deadline for comments on the permanent ban for 120 days, or until 60 days after the proposed transportation rule has been published, whichever is later. She is encouraging everyone else to make the same request. To see a sample letter that Boucher would like people to send to the Forest Service, go to www.wi4wda.org/carlaboucher/index.html.
In the meantime, Boucher and the United Four Wheel Drive Associations will continue with the lawsuit against the Forest Service. They are asking for help from anyone who believes that the roads should stay open for ORVs and campers. For more information on how you and your club can help, visit www.wi4wda.org, or send your donations to: Land Action Fund, 4505 W. 700 South, Shelbyville, Ind. 46176.
Texas Regulatory Committee Recommends Scrappage
They're at it again - the North Texas Clean Air Steering Committee has adopted a resolution recommending emissions control strategies, including a car-crusher (scrappage) program.
The resolution has been forwarded to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), which has the legal responsibility of developing a plan to reduce emissions according to federal government mandates in Texas' pollution problem areas. According to the resolution, a mandatory $10 license-plate fee would fund the scrappage plan. The $10 fee would be applied to all vehicles in the Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties subject to I/M (dynamometer) testing.
The program anticipates scrapping more than 33,000 vehicles--33,000 potential collector, parts-car or restorable vehicles-at a price of $700 per vehicle. This proposal comes on the heels of a scrappage bill considered by the Texas legislature that was beaten back by the organized and strong efforts of Texas SAN organizations, notably, the Texas Vehicle Club Council (TVCC).
Texas Approves Aftermarket Parts and Accessories as Reimbursable Expenses
With SEMA's support, the Texas Motor Vehicle Board approved a proposed regulation to include "items or accessories added to the vehicle at or after purchase" as additional reimbursable expenses to vehicle owners due a refund of the purchase price of a vehicle under state lemon laws. Despite SEMA's objections, the Board also approved qualifying language offered by the Texas Automobile Dealers Association that will allow hearing officers to consider functionality and whether the items or accessories are OEM parts or non-OEM parts when determining the reimbursement amount. According to Department of Transportation officials, the proposal will be formally adopted in the near future.
SEMA Director of State Relations Steve McDonald commented, "We are hopeful that the addition of aftermarket parts and accessories to the list of reimbursable items will serve to give hobbyists who wish to modify their vehicles some level of protection. We are obviously concerned that the test for functionality and the apparent bias against aftermarket parts could essentially negate the beneficial aspects of this provision. In conversations with Texas Department of Transportation officials, we have been assured that the effects of this regulation will be analyzed and adjustments made if hobbyists are denied fair reimbursement."
Washington, D.C., Allows Year of Manufacture Plates
By Skip Lackie, D.C. Council of Car Clubs
The District of Columbia has joined many other states by enacting legislation to permit the optional display of vintage year-of-manufacture license plates in lieu of D.C. Historic Motor Vehicle license plates on historic vehicles. The Historic Motor Vehicle Act of 1997 was prepared by the D.C. Council of Car Clubs and was introduced by City Council member Kathy Patterson and became law in early 1999.
The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles has just recently finalized implementation procedures, which are as follows:
- Vehicle owners are responsible for providing their own vintage plates. (The existing D.C. Historic Motor Vehicle Plates, of course, can continue to be used.)
- Vintage plates will be permitted to be displayed on the historic vehicle at all times, but these plates will not be the legal registration tags. Vehicles displaying vintage plates must be legally registered as Historic Motor Vehicles and the legal D.C. HMV plates must be carried in the car.
- D.C. HMV tags will cost $25 per year and vehicles are exempt from annual safety and emissions inspection; however, historic vehicles must undergo one last inspection and originality verification at a D.C. inspection station before the D.C. DMV will issue HMV plates.
- A matched pair of legible plates is required, except for those years in which D.C. only issued single plates.
- Only one set of vintage plates with the same number will be accepted for display on a historic motor vehicle. However, duplication of a number in use on a current Class-A tag is permitted.
- D.C. diplomatic (pre-State Department issue) plates cannot be used as vintage plates. Plates originally issued for use on nonpassenger vehicles (truck, bus, motorcycle) can only be displayed on the correct type of historic vehicle. However, vintage passenger car plates may be displayed on any type of vehicle.
- There is no charge to register a set of D.C. vintage plates with the D.C. DMV (annual renewal of the HMV plates will still be required). To make them legal to use, car owners must bring the vintage plates and their current HMV registration card to Room 1063 of the Municipal Center, 301 C St., NW. The D.C. DMV will issue a second registration slip that cross-references the vintage tag number to the legal HMV license-plate number.
California To Look at Refunding Smog-Impact Program Fees
According to Governor Gray Davis, California may owe refunds to out-of-state drivers who paid a smog-impact fee in order to register their cars in California. The state legislature will look into this matter when it reconvenes this month, and if it agrees with the Governor's assessment and authorizes refunding the money and interest owed to every eligible driver, it could cost the state a minimum of $380 million. This past fall a state appeals court ruled the fee (which has been in effect since 1990) unconstitutional because it infringed on interstate commerce. From 1990 to July 1998, when a lower court ruled that the fee was improper, all money collected went directly into California's general treasury fund. After July 1998, the money was shifted to fund a program to help bring California's automobiles into compliance with antipollution laws; ironically, this means that smog-impact fee money directly funded the California M-1 scrappage program, designed to crush 150,000 cars a year. At present, no decisions have been made about how the state would finance a refund and who would be legally entitled to one. Nonetheless, published reports suggest that more than 78,000 people have already filed for refunds with the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
The Watchdog With Real Bite
By Erin Mulholland
At the 1999 SEMA Show o ITE, I discussed the SEMA Action Network concept with several SEMA-member companies. Hands down, SAN is viewed as a positive tool, proven to reach hobbyists and have a positive influence on legislation and regulation nationwide. The swell of positive energy has likewise affected retailers and manufacturers.
Nate Shelton, chairman-elect of the SEMA Board of Directors and CEO and President of K&N Engineering, believes SAN is a positive for every SEMA member. "I think what Chris and Brian are doing...with the clubs and their publication, ‘Driving Force,' is fantastic. They have created a lot of visibility to the clubs on everything that is happening, including the legislative issues and industry developments. I think it is a tremendous leg of the SEMA team."
Shelton, a car hobbyist himself, drives a red 1932 Ford Coupe. "I have several friends that are members of a club in Riverside, California, and I have often thought about becoming a member," said Shelton. "I just don't have the time right now with the business to be in a club." Due to his heavy schedule with K&N and SEMA, Shelton relies on information provided by "Driving Force" to keep him up to speed on the issues that affect enthusiasts and SEMA members.
Shelton is personally bothered by the plight of restorers in the hobby. "I understand that in several states old vehicles are being crushed because of [unfair emissions] legislation. One of the things I know SAN and SEMA are able to do is push for [25-year rolling] emissions exemptions and that type of thing. This is a major issue that is going to be a big benefit to the hobby."
As for the "Driving Force" publication itself, Shelton reflects, "I feel it is well organized and well put together. It includes a lot of very helpful information, and it is a great tool to get legislative action where it is needed. It helps car enthusiasts nationwide to know what is going on."
Matt Agosta, chairman-elect of the Automotive Restoration Market Organization (a SEMA council) and president of Steele Rubber Products, believes SAN has a positive effect on the industry, as well as the hobby. "Brian Caudill and Steve McDonald have done a great job keeping track of [developing legislation]. They alert the industry and hobbyists to bills as they come up, rather than after they become laws. The people affected are able to provide input to their elected officials, and to hopefully change the bills to be favorable to the industry and to their hobby. And in that respect, it has worked out really well."
A member of the AACA regional club in Charlotte, North Carolina, Agosta reports that one of his club members receives "Driving Force," and passes the information on to the club members. "Any time there is something that might even remotely affect us, they let the membership know. I know the information has reached a lot of people."
Agosta's business manufactures rubber replacement automotive parts, such as door and window seals. His concerns revolve around the elimination of parts cars for restoration. "Crushing potential parts cars makes it harder for a restorer to restore a car. It makes them want to simply give up on their hobby. And that means I won't have those restored cars to supply parts to. So it does impact my business. And that in turn impacts me, my employees and just about all the other suppliers for those cars." Agosta owns a variety of antique vehicles, from a 1941 Cadillac convertible coupe to a ‘57 Cadillac, a ‘61 Corvette and a ‘56 Packard. "I also have a whole slew of cars that I haven't gotten to yet, and I don't want anybody taking them away from me." With a careful eye to the legislation and regulatory goings-on, Agosta feels confident that SAN will prevent his cars from ever being taken away.
Chris Freitag of SuperTrapp Industries related how SAN directly benefited California SuperTrapp customers when tickets for illegal exhaust modifications were being incorrectly issued in California by some police officers. "Some of the manufacturers closely involved, like the import performance exhaust guys, were particularly adversely affected by this," noted Freitag. Thankfully, SEMA interceded, bringing the situation to the attention of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). "SEMA contacted the CHP, which analyzed the situation and said ‘hey, we have been issuing this thing wrong.' Eventually SEMA got the CHP to issue an inter-departmental mandate advising all the officers how to correctly apply this citation. Basically, this impacted our customers, which impacted us. That's the single best example of what SEMA's SAN has done for car enthusiasts, where it has impacted the exhaust part of the market that we deal with."
"SAN is absolutely a valuable service; its much more than just watchdogging," Freitag explained. "It is the proactivity of SAN that makes it especially valuable...that is where SEMA stands out. SAN steps up to the plate and makes a difference with hard work, persistence, and by getting hobbyists, retailers and manufacturers involved in regulatory and legislative actions." SuperTrapp Industries manufactures a variety of muffler/exhaust tip combinations that are adjustable for sound and back pressure.