A Race to Regulate: More Absurdity from EPA

After seven plus years of reading and opining about energy-related topics, there aren’t too many news stories that I’ve found truly surprising. After all, energy policy, despite its importance to our national economy and to individual consumers, is normally a less than riveting topic. Every once in a while, however, a story seems so absurd that I am forced to double check the source. At the very least, double check whether the story has a dateline of April 1st.


For example, back in July 2011, we posted a blog piece entitled “Emissions Debate and Political Fireworks” that included the story of Wichita, Kansas, a city on the verge of EPA ozone non-compliance because of a fireworks display. Because of the city’s patriotic fireworks show, Wichita’s ozone readings surpassed the allowed standard for July 4th and 5th. At the time, city officials feared that ozone non-compliance could lead to millions in costs and the potential for economic damage. I was left shaking my head, as were many readers, that an EPA policy could be applied in such a seemingly absurd way.

A story published yesterday in The Columbus Dispatch had a similar effect, causing me to double check for an April Fools dateline. The story, written by Alan Johnson, reveals that a proposed EPA rule would prohibit stock vehicles from being modified for racing or for off-road use. The rule is being proposed in the name of emission and fuel-efficiency standards. The proposed rule states that “certified motor vehicles and motor-vehicle engines and their emission-control devices must remain in their certified configuration even if they are used solely for competition or if they become non-road vehicles or engines.”

Seriously? The EPA isn’t busy enough dismantling the coal industry and regulating fireworks displays that it needs to take on amateur racing and off-roading?

The rule has drawn the ire of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, as well as attorneys general in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan and West Virginia. Keep in mind that the specialty parts sector in the U.S. accounts for about $36 billion in sales annually. This is big business, especially in rural economies. Ohio, in fact, is home to two of the nation’s biggest retail suppliers of specialty auto parts.

“Not only is this language inconsistent with the federal Clean Air Act, but any measurable benefit from this change would pale in comparison to the economic harm from lost jobs and reduced tax revenues in Ohio,” DeWine stated recently in a missive sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.

The EPA, of course, claims that its rule is aimed only at vehicles that have been tampered with and devices designed to cheat emissions-control features. There is no way to know whether that is true. What we do know is that the EPA has made a practice of creating consequences for which it takes no responsibility. Creating utility emissions thresholds that shut down coal-fired generation while protecting natural gas? Simply a coincidence according to EPA. Calculating enormous supposed public health benefits from a new mercury rule, when only a tiny percentage of the calculated benefits actually come from mercury reductions? That’s solid analysis according to EPA, not sleight of hand. For EPA, the practice of looking the other way from the messes it creates has become old hat.

Regardless of intent, the idea that an EPA rule would have an impact as absurd as shutting down amateur car racing should raise more than more than a few eyebrows. Like fireworks, amateur racing is part of the American social fabric. Let’s hope our nation’s attorneys general keep their foot on the pedal and send EPA down a different track.