EPA armed agents' raids on car shops would be curtailed under Hill proposal

EPA armed agents' raids on car shops would be curtailed under Hill proposal

John Lund was in the midst of a busy day running his business providing custom auto-tuning and revisions to cars when armed agents from the Environmental Protection Agency arrived.

“It was just a normal day" in February at Lund Racing, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, recalled Lund, the company owner.

EPA SQUEEZE ON AFTERMARKET CAR PART SELLERS HURTS CLASSIC CAR INDUSTRY, LANKFORD SAYS

"We didn't know anything was going to happen, and I wasn't at the office yet, but my coworkers and my dad were here," Lund told the Washington Examiner.

 

So were the EPA agents, who cornered his father. The elder Mr. Lund calmly got out of his car to be patted down by an armed EPA agent wearing soft armor.

“It was 12 armed federal agents, and they had little EPA badges on and everything. I come in about 10 minutes later, and there was one agent out there,” Lund said. “He walked me in, and they had a search warrant for conspiracy to sell defeat devices. They basically went around the building, and they did forensics — physical forensics, digital forensics on the laptops, and we were compliant.”

Courtesy of Jon Lund

Following the EPA’s December National Compliance Initiative, which focuses on manufacture, sale, and installation of emissions “defeat devices,” the agency targeted the high-performance auto industry, sometimes deploying armed agents to slap heavy fines on violators.

Street vehicles — cars, trucks, and motorcycles — can't be converted into race cars, according to the EPA. In December, during the waning weeks of former President Donald Trump's administration, the agency announced it was making a priority of enforcement against high-performance parts in conversion to race cars, including superchargers, tuners, and exhaust systems. That's continued six months into President Joe Biden's term.

Lund's shop is hardly the only dealer targeted by the EPA. Last month, Bradenton, Florida’s JH Diesel and Fort Lupton, Colorado’s PFI Speed were hit with heavy fines by the EPA.

Now, a bill is moving through Congress to curtail these kinds of EPA raids. The RPM Act, its sponsors say, aims to protect the right to convert street vehicles into dedicated race cars. The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, would clarify that it is legal to make emissions-related changes to a street vehicle in order to convert it into a race car that is used exclusively in competition. The proposal would also confirm that it is legal to produce, market, and install racing equipment.

“I think it’s insane that over 40 executive branch agencies have police forces. The EPA shouldn’t be able to raid anything or anybody,” Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, and co-sponsor of the RPM Act, told the Washington Examiner.

An EPA spokesman defended the agency’s deployment of armed personnel.

“Our agents are necessarily armed when they investigate persons alleged to have knowingly violated the law, and our investigations are often conducted in the company of local/state law enforcement and pursuant to judicially approved subpoenas,” the spokesman told the Washington Examiner in a statement.

Still, small-business owners are incensed at the environmental agency's raid.

On Florida's west coast, JH Diesel’s Justin Hildebrande received a letter from the EPA asking for two months of customer invoicing from his shop. Hildebrande's business was initially fined $180,000. But after turning over troves of information to the EPA, the fine was settled at $22,000.

Courtesy of Jon Lund

North of Denver, PFI Speed got audited by the EPA back in November, owner and operator Brent Leivestad said in a YouTube video last month. Agents asked the ownership about its clients, suppliers, and what it was selling.

As a result of offering to sell electronic control modules for vehicles, the business was initially fined $180,000 but may settle for $18,000 after turning over information to the EPA. Leivestad compared the experience to a “shakedown.”

“None of us know what this EPA act is in the first place. We don’t even know really where to even find it or read it or understand what their rules are, but we got dinged,” Leivestad said.

The EPA previously raided high-performance auto shops six years ago, when the agency attempted to implement a rule that would make it illegal to modify street vehicles for racing purposes.

Although the EPA withdrew the proposal in 2016, the agency has since continued to maintain that street vehicles cannot be converted into race cars.

Courtesy of Jon Lund

“The Clean Air Act prohibits tampering with emissions controls on EPA-certified vehicles and engines, as well as the manufacture, sale, and installation of aftermarket defeat devices that are designed to tamper,” a spokesman for the EPA told the Washington Examiner. “The Agency has been enforcing these provisions for decades. Recent EPA investigations have shown that more than a million vehicles—originally manufactured as regular, street vehicles and certified for that purpose — have had their emissions controls completely removed.”

The Specialty Equipment Market Association, a trade association of manufacturers, distributors, retailers, publishing companies, auto restorers, street rod builders, restylers, car clubs, and race teams (SEMA), disputed the EPA's assessment. Daniel Ingber, SEMA vice president of government and legal affairs told the Washington Examiner in a statement:

"There are more than 281 million cars and trucks driven on the streets and highways, and they are all subject to the Clean Air Act. By comparison, there are an estimated 195,000 active, dedicated race cars in the United States. As vehicles that are trailered to and from race tracks and driven only during competitions, these race vehicles have minimal impact on the environment and are exempt from the Clean Air Act."

Courtesy of Jon Lund

Ingber noted that while some of the race vehicles are built from the ground up, "many amateur and grassroots racers convert production regular street-vehicles into full-time race vehicles as an affordable way to get into the sport. Regardless, race cars are never driven on streets or highways and they are used solely for competition purposes."

He added, "The problem is that the EPA is indiscriminately enforcing against aftermarket companies and harming legitimate businesses in the motorsports industry. The EPA has pre-classified many products as illegal and is issuing fines without investigating the circumstances — most often against small, family-run businesses that do not have the resources to defend themselves."