As Feds Lock Down Emissions Laws, SEMA Picks Up Fight Against Gas Bans

mechanic using a ratchet wrench
SEMA Picks Up Fight Against Feds, Gas Bansljubaphoto - Getty Images

Automakers around the world have been actively participating in the EV race, working to get cars to market as soon as possible. And Wednesday's announcement that the EPA finalized strict new regulations for tailpipe emissions for model years 2027 to 2032 put an exclamation point on the current push toward EVs.

“The final rule builds upon EPA’s final standards for federal greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2023 through 2026 and leverages advances in clean car technology to unlock benefits to Americans ranging from improving public health through reducing smog- and soot-forming pollution from vehicles, to reducing climate pollution, to saving drivers money through reduced fuel and maintenance costs,” says the EPA (in one long run-on sentence).

According to NPR, the EPA expects that EVs could account for up to 56 percent of new 2030-2032 passenger vehicles. There is a sense of urgency here. "[T]ransportation accounted for the largest portion (29%) of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions," the EPA wrote in 2021. However, fans of gas-powered engines and the organizations that support the industry have concerns.

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SEMA Takes Action on Behalf of Combustion

One of the forces behind the battle for internal combustion is the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which formed the SEMA Action Network in 1997 to give its members, vehicle clubs, and enthusiasts a cohesive voice for causes like this. In case its charter isn’t clear, the organization’s motto is “Ignited We Stand.”

And SEMA is not staying quiet about the final rulemaking, saying the EPA's decision will “create a seismic shift in the automotive industry,” adversely affecting small, independent businesses, including aftermarket parts manufacturers, retailers, distributors, installers, and even local repair businesses.

“Notably, one-third of consumer spending on performance and accessory products goes toward upgrading ICE vehicles and drive trains, and 25 percent of SEMA manufacturers produce ICE-related components,” SEMA said in a press release on the day of the EPA ruling. “This final rule will reduce consumer choice and increase the costs to purchase new vehicles. It will also disrupt the used car market as used ICE engine vehicle inventory will begin to decline, thus increasing prices and making it less affordable for those who need the used vehicle market for its typical affordability and accessibility.”

a red car parked in front of a wall with graffiti
Kristin Shaw

State Regulations Muddy the Waters

In October 2023, the North Carolina legislature passed a bill to prohibit internal combustion engine bans. The following month, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to defeat a bill that would have required the state to adopt California’s emissions standards and ban the sale of new gas- and diesel-powered motor vehicles starting in 2035. While the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in December that would bar the federal government from banning gas-powered cars for Americans, the fight continues.

In the last 30 years, more than 17 states have hitched their wagons to California’s emission policies, which include the ban of internal combustion engines over the next decade. Just last year, Virginia passed legislation to support California’s emission standards in a special session of the legislature.

SEMA SVP, Public and Government Affairs Karen Bailey-Chapman says SEMA doesn’t believe that California should have the authority to mandate policy for 40 percent of Americans outside of the Golden State.

“These EV mandates are coming in too much and too fast,” she says. “SEMA believes in an all-of-the-above approach. We don’t believe banning internal combustion is correct.”

Bailey-Chapman asserts that the industry has done quite a bit of work to make ICE engines more efficient and reducing emissions while producing equal or better power. SEMA members have created hydrogen conversions and other renewable or sustainable fuels, like biofuel made from agricultural waste, synthetic fuel, and more. Changing the fuel, not the engine, is a viable alternative to getting rid of ICE altogether, Bailey-Chapman says.

“The issue is [the type of energy] you burn; not the engine,” she explains. “[Banning ICE] is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

On the same day as the EPA ruling was announced, Maine voted against what local TV station WMTW calls "California-style" regulations. If the proposal had been approved, 51 percent of new vehicle sales or leases in Maine would have been required to be zero-emission models by model year 2028, increasing to 82 percent by model year 2032.

close up of a gearshifter
Kristin Shaw

Banning ICE Distresses the Market, SEMA Says

SEMA believes that affordability and inclusiveness is at the crux of the issue in Connecticut and other states considering adopting California’s EV-only path. Bailey-Chapman told Road & Track in January that government officials from both major parties are concerned about the impact an ICE ban might have on farmers using gas- and diesel-powered agricultural equipment. It would also disproportionately affect low-income families, SEMA maintains.

“There’s a delta in terms of the cost difference; not everyone can go out and buy a new car,” Bailey-Chapman says. “We know – especially since 2020 – the price of cars has gone up. By mandating the kind of vehicles that people must purchase, you’re disadvantaging people in multi-family housing who might not even have access to charging.”

Banning ICE vehicles distresses the used car market too, she says, eliminating the opportunity for entry to the used car market. That impacts mobility, which then trickles down to job access. Instead of mandates, SEMA maintains, let the market determine the direction.

the interior of a car
Kristin Shaw

“From our perspective, we say let the consumer and marketplace decide and let innovators innovate.” Bailey-Chapman says. “When you shut down all ICE, what happens to innovation in all the other industries?”

SEMA President and CEO Mike Spagnola told Road & Track on Wednesday that the March 20 EPA regulations "will significantly harm the auto aftermarket industry and stunt innovation of other zero-emissions and viable carbon-neutral technologies to reduce vehicle emissions in favor of a single technology."

"There is a lot of hard work ahead of us. We must continue to fight to get government regulators to embrace all technology solutions that will reduce emissions while limiting adverse impacts on small businesses and consumer choice," he says.

In the meantime, reports of hybrid sales surging and EV sales slowing down have dotted the media landscape. The next year is sure to be a wild one; buckle up.

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