Overcoming the long reach of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The Clean Air Act authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to take steps to protect the air we breathe and the agency has over the years made significant strides in doing just that. Its effectiveness is duly noted by many; the U.S. coal industry is one such entity that has felt the full brunt of the agency’s persistence and power. In giving the agency such sweeping powers, the Congress has also set limits as to what it can do in certain areas.
In 1990, Congress gave EPA the authorization to regulate non-road vehicles under the Clean Air Act. In giving that authorization, Congress also made it clear that this authorization DID NOT include any “vehicle used solely for competition.” This exemption is important because many times racing vehicles are converted from on-road vehicles. We all remember the stock car races at the county fairgrounds. Those stock cars were modified on-road vehicles. That practice continues today for many competitive racing events.
In July 2015, EPA in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking covering greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy for heavy-duty vehicles also proposed language to make illegal under the Clean Air Act any steps taken to convert a motor vehicle certified for on-highway use into a vehicle used for competition only. You can only imagine what this means for racing enthusiasts; panic.
A group of House and Senate members have introduced legislation that would make it crystal clear that it is legal to convert for racing competition a vehicle that had previously been certified for highway use. H.R. 4715 and S. 2659, the “Recognizing the Protection of Motorsports Act of 2016,” is that legislation. Without it, the long reach of EPA will put a serious damper on competitive motorsports. If you are interested in this issue and would like to encourage other members of Congress to climb on board and support this needed legislation, please go to this link for the ARRA alert on this subject.
H.R. 1838, the Clear Creek National Recreation Area
This really wasn’t meant to be a negative EPA newsletter because the agency does do some critically important work, but we have exciting news about H.R. 1838, the Clear Creek National Recreation Area. The House Natural Resources Committee voted to report this legislation to the House floor for further action.
H.R. 1838 was introduced by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) in response to another EPA overreach when it pressured the Bureau of Land Management to close the Clear Creek Management Area, an area that included a very popular OHV recreation spot in California. EPA had health concerns about the area because of the presence of naturally occurring asbestos. Yes, you heard it right, natural asbestos, meaning the substance is found naturally in the ground.
When EPA pressured BLM to close this recreation area, California State officials were suspect of EPA’s findings. In 2010, the State decided to commission its own study by a reputable independent entity. The findings of the new study showed that the health risk was minimal and with proper management, the area should be safe for OHV recreation.
H.R. 1838 basically overturns the EPA/BLM decision to close the area and reopens it to OHV recreation and designates it as a National Recreation Area. The legislation also creates a relatively small wilderness area, 21,000 acres, and designates about 31 miles of creeks/streams under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. There is still a long way to go in the legislative process in getting this measure across the goal line, but we are heartened by the bi-partisan support for this measure in the Committee and we are expecting similar support when this measure is called up for consideration on the House floor.
National Monument designations
The threat of more national monument designations is not going away especially in the closing months of the Obama Administration. The Chairmen of three House committees have written to Administration officials requesting up-to-date information about further monument designations under consideration by the White House. This effort follows an initiative led Rep Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and 30 other House members requesting that the House Appropriations Committee insert in the 2017 appropriations for the Department of the Interior restrictive language on how a President can use the 1906 Antiquities Act for the designation of more monument areas.
ARRA was supportive of the Gosar letter and worked to get other House members to join with him in signing the letter. It’s too early to know what action, if any, the House Appropriations Committee will take on this request, but we are encouraged that more and more members in the House and the Senate are actively exploring various ideas on how to curb presidential excesses when utilizing the 1906 Antiquities Act for the designation of national monuments.
The campaign season has been going on now for several months and both parties have experienced their fair share of surprises. While most of the focus has been on the presidential races, the political season has begun to creep into the legislative process as well; the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice is just one example.
We are watching closely to try and determine how our issues will fare in this truncated legislative session. Getting things done is very hard when there are so very few days when the Congress is actually in session. H.R. 1838 and H.R. 4715/S.2659 are just some of many pieces of legislation that we hold a close interest in. If a bill is not enacted into law, then there is a need to find someone else willing to introduce the legislation in the new Congress which convenes in January, 2017. So, there are a lot of unknowns looking forward, but one thing is certain, EPA will not back down easily on its position regarding Clear Creek or Motorsports so generating pressure from the Congress is vital. We still have work to do.
Larry E. Smith
Americans for Responsible Recreational Access (ARRA)