CAFE Under Scrutiny in the U.S. Congress
SEMA has joined major automotive manufacturers, the Coalition for Vehicle Choice and other pro-automobile consumer groups in opposing efforts to end the current freeze on Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards.
CAFE mandates that auto manufacturers meet fuel economy targets for their vehicle fleets. For the last several years, the automotive industry has successfully fought to freeze these fuel economy averages at the reasonable rate of 27.5 mpg for cars and 20.7 for light trucks and SUVs. Now, a few members of the U.S. Congress, in a misguided attempt to reduce pollution, gas prices and U.S. dependence on foreign oil, are actively seeking to end the CAFE freeze. If they are successful, the effects on consumer choice will be dramatic.
Raising passenger-car CAFE standards in the late 1970s and early 1980s nearly decimated the once-popular station wagon and full-size car market pushing consumers, looking for similar utility, comfort, performance and safety, into the now popular light truck/SUV market. Ironically, ending the CAFE freeze will likely impact the light truck market immediately, forcing manufacturers to limit consumer choice for these vehicles by increasing their cost, downsizing them, underpowering them or by simply eliminating these models from the vehicle fleet.
An unfortunate consequence of limiting consumer choice for larger vehicles is that highway safety will inevitably suffer as consumers are forced into smaller cars with higher accident fatality rates. In fact, a recent USA Today analysis found that "46,000 thousand people have died in crashes they would have survived in bigger, heavier cars. ...roughly 7,700 deaths for every mile per gallon gained" by driving smaller cars.
Finally, the arguments for raising CAFE targets don't hold water. First of all, CAFE was enacted in 1975, during the OPEC oil crisis, to conserve fuel, not to reduce emissions. This said, even doubling the fuel economy of new cars in the U.S. would only reduce man-made carbon-dioxide emissions less than one percent worldwide. Secondly, smaller cars have done little to reduce total gas consumption and today the U.S. imports more foreign oil than when CAFE was first enacted. Finally, simply increasing the average mpg of new vehicles does not automatically guarantee that consumers will end up paying less money per year at the gas pump. In the end, how much one pays for gas in a year depends on many factors, including how many miles one drives in a year.
By now, all SEMA Action Network member organizations and individuals, as well as SEMA member companies, have been contacted and urged to express their opinions on CAFE to their federal legislators. SEMA is very hopeful that our collective auto industry and auto enthusiast efforts will be rewarded and that the CAFE freeze will survive.
California Increases Roadside Tampering Inspections
SEMA has learned that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has implemented a training program for "peace officers" to help them to identify instances where emission controls have been tampered with (i.e., removed, disconnected or rendered inoperative). Its target appears mainly to be import performance vehicles. Bottom line: Officers will be empowered to conduct visual inspections of emissions systems on vehicles pulled over for other infractions to see if any violations exist.
The most obvious violation would be the removal or hollowing out of a catalytic converter. However, the use of nonapproved aftermarket products may also constitute a violation. If an officer finds an infraction, he or she will issue a citation that states the vehicle is in violation of the California Vehicle Code. The owner must then make the repairs necessary to bring the vehicle into compliance, at whatever cost (there will be no cost limits or waivers), and take the vehicle to a Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) referee for verification. If the referee finds the vehicle in compliance, a certificate will be issued which may then be presented to the court as verification that the violation has been corrected.
Vehicle owners may still be subject to additional fines and court costs even after their vehicle is brought into compliance. While this process is similar to a "fix it" ticket (usually issued for minor things like a missing front license plate) the primary difference is that tampering is a "secondary infraction" (i.e., there must be some other "probable cause" to stop the vehicle before the tampering inspection occurs) and the BAR referee must verify repairs. The required court appearance after repairs are verified is also new and the potential penalties are also greater.
While it has always been possible for a peace officer to issue emissions system tampering citations, this was rarely done because officers lacked the knowledge to make valid determinations about a vehicle's compliance. The CARB training program changes this. While catalytic converters will likely be the basis for the majority of initial citations, other components will surely get their share. What this means for the vehicle enthusiast is that it will be much riskier, and potentially much more costly, to tamper with emission control systems.
SEMA has provided information to CARB to help ensure that approved aftermarket components are not cited. Too many peace officers already endorse the idea that if a product isn't "original equipment" it must be a violation. Therefore, SEMA has provided information about the many products which are approved and has advised CARB to train officers to review the required BAR Referee label on the driver's side doorpost (as well as any other required labels provided by the component manufacturer) prior to issuing a citation. CARB agrees it is in nobody's interest for erroneous citations to be issued, even if they would subsequently be corrected by the referee. Hopefully, such errors will be rare, but forewarned is forearmed.
SEMA Offers Car Clubs and Enthusiasts a Guide to Working with Public Officials
Now available via the SEMA web site is a guide to helping SEMA Action Network members, as well as everyday consumers, develop into savvy government relations experts. The document, prepared by the SEMA Government Relations team, is entitled "A Guide to Lobbying your Elected Officials." It gives advice on all aspects of dealing with elected representatives including:
Tips for setting up and participating in meetings with elected officials;
The best methods for contacting and keeping in touch with your elected officials;
Guidance on how to turn information from a SEMA Action Network legislative or regulatory alert into a personal letter, e-mail or phone call;
Suggestions on how car clubs and individual auto enthusiasts can become more politically aware and politically effective.
All members of the SEMA Action Network have received this publication along with a recent edition of the Driving Force newsletter. In addition, copies of the publication are available at www.sema.org/consumer/fedleg/ in a format that is easy to download, copy and distribute to all interested parties.
Run to the Hill, Park on the Steps, Minnesota Street Rod Association's Annual Thank-Fest on Capitol Hill
By Erin Mulholland
Cruisin' to Porky's on a hot summer Saturday night in his custom street rod was about as much fun as any young man could dream of in Minneapolis. And for Jerry Johnson, it was more than a dream. Almost 40 years ago, Johnson gathered with his pals and cruised down Lake Street to his hangout. At the same time, another crop of area cruisers headed for another Porky's on University in St. Paul. In 1967, at Johnson's suggestion, these different hot rod clubs formed a single association and the Minnesota Street Rod Association (MSRA) was born.
In the ensuing years, MSRA has established itself as a family-oriented association that uses its resources to educate and inform. However, they have not forgotten how to have a great time. One of their most popular events is the 4-day "Back to the 50s Weekend," held every summer. The event attracts more than 10,000 cars and boasts approximately 50,000 spectators. This event, which began with 75 cars, is a gem. However, MSRA works hard to provide its members with exceptional events year round.
Perhaps the smallest, but most important event scheduled each March, is the "Run to the Hill." Sponsored by the MSRA's Legislative Committee, the event's impact is felt by every car enthusiast in Minnesota. At the "Run," MSRA members drive their hot rods right onto the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol Building and park them there for all to see. This car show goes a step beyond just showing off chrome and original leather upholstery. The legislative committee members prepare detailed information packets for all state legislators, senators and even for Governor Jesse Ventura, letting them know what pending legislation is important to them, and inviting officials to attend the Back to the ,50s Weekend in June. Each packet is hand-delivered along with a resounding "thank you" for successful work achieved on behalf of automobile enthusiasts in Minnesota.
"We make a point to shake the hands of the legislators and senators that have helped us, even if we don't currently have any bills or issues pending," said legislative committee member Stan "Butch" Pream. "Thanking them for past support is vital to help keep the doors open for when we do need them on our side."
MSRA's Legislative Committee was formed approximately 6 years ago, when ethanol fuel became an issue in Minnesota. Through common sense lobbying, the MSRA was successful in helping eliminate ethanol from some forms of fuel in Minnesota. Now the people in Minnesota have a choice when they drive to the gas pump. More recently, MSRA's Legislative Committee successfully worked with legislators to create a law to allow blue-dot rear lights on custom hot rods.
The committee has also made itself available to the State Highway Department, and often acts as a consultant on issues as they arise. "Working with the highway department has been a wonderful experience," said Pream. Issues that have been worked on include proper identification of street rods eligible for Minnesota's highly coveted street rod license plates.
New Jersey Attempts to Regulate Race Car Noise
Impacting New Jersey's sizable drag-racing community, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a proposed rule to reestablish noise regulations for racetracks. Racetracks have been exempt from noise rules since 1971, but have been encouraged to enter into voluntary agreements with their surrounding communities (addressing hours of operation, etc.) as part of a good neighbor policy of sorts.
In 1998, after a vocal minority of residents petitioned the DEP to re-regulate racetrack noise, the DEP held a hearing on a draft proposed rule that would have severely restricted track hours, required mufflers on racing vehicles, and required tracks to certify that "street legal" vehicles complied with New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicle standards. The general counsel for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and SEMA argued that the rule was unrealistic and would cause significant economic harm. In addition, SEMA and NHRA reminded DEP officials of the obvious: Fans like to hear loud vehicles!
The DEP addressed most of NHRA's and SEMA's concerns in its new proposed rule. For example, the rule would exempt existing tracks from the sound rules during authorized hours of operation: Mon.-Thurs.: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat.: 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun.: noon-8 p.m. However, NHRA and SEMA are trying to persuade the DEP to extend the Sunday hours of operation when it issues a final rule later this year.
Maine Governor Signs Scrappage Bill into Law
In a serious blow to automobile collectors and restorers, Maine Governor Angus King signed into law a bill to implement a motor vehicle scrappage pilot program. The bill (L.D. 2182) began as a cleaner car rebate plan to assist dealers in meeting the requirements of Maine's low-emissions vehicle program. That program was virtually replaced in a joint session of the Transportation Committee with a full-on effort to rid this largely rural state of a good bit of its automotive heritage. Upon approval by the committee, the measure was rushed to the floors of Maine's House and Senate where it was gaveled through without the benefit of a roll call vote.
Like most scrappage initiatives, this one promises to accelerate the normal demise of vehicles through the immediate retirement of older cars which are then typically crushed into blocks of scrap metal. This one differs from most in that it will provide a rebate to motorists for scrapping their older cars and purchasing a newer vehicle. By the bill's flawed logic, a "high-polluting vehicle" is a car or truck of a model year 1987 or earlier. A "cleaner vehicle," on the other hand, would be a 1996 or later model. The program will be funded through private and public grants and through air pollution fines.
"Bill sponsors effectively negated our ability to garner forces against the bill by moving quickly to gain approval of other legislators before they had a chance to study the specifics of the program," said SEMA Director of State Relations Steve McDonald. "Despite his apprehensions with vehicle scrappage and the hobbyist community's tremendous efforts to convince him of its ineffectiveness in cleaning the air, the governor felt compelled to sign the measure without evidence that the legislature would sustain a veto."
Under the new law, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is required to adopt rules implementing the program by Oct. 1, 2000. DEP will file a report in the year 2003, evaluating whether the program should be continued. "In the coming months, SEMA will focus its efforts on affecting the implementation of the program through the regulatory process," McDonald said. "Absent a satisfactory conclusion, we will consider pursuing a bill in the next legislative session to repeal the program before these vintage vehicles and their parts are destroyed."
Negative outcome notwithstanding, SEMA would like to recognize the hard work done by the following car clubs in opposing scrappage: Downeast Streetrod Club, Knucklebusters Antique & Classic Motors Club, Maine Antique Vehicle Restoration Club, Maine Classic Chevy Club and the Maine Association of Automobile Clubs.
Newly Introduced Legislation
Note: The following state bills are not laws. They have been recently introduced and are currently being considered for adoption by the respective state legislatures.
For more legislative and regulatory information, check out the SEMA web site: www.sema.org/consumer/fedleg
COLORADO: H.B. 1492 would authorize the operation of the "clean screen" program in the enhanced emissions inspection area beginning Jan. 1, 2002.
WISCONSIN: S.B. 4 would require lighted lamps whenever windshield wipers are in use.
FLORIDA: H.B. 2327 would provide recordkeeping requirements for some flea market vendors.
KANSAS: H.B. 2561 would provide for titling of salvage and rebuilt vehicles.
TITLING, PLATES AND REGISTRATION
PENNSYLVANIA: H.B. 1536 would allow antique vehicles to display on front bumper a vintage registration plate that was issued in the same model year as the vehicle.