By Jim McFarland
SEMA General Counsel, Russ Deane, with Bob Burch (right) looking on, provided information about the CARB Executive Order (E.O.) program during its early stages of development and application in the ’80s…as he does today.
In fact, history has recorded that it was on the post-World War II dry lakes of Southern California and makeshift dragstrips of the same era that the specialty-equipment industry we know today began to take root. Over time, as racers and performance enthusiasts sought to expand their modification practices to include the building of parts for their friends and fellow competitors, efforts such as those by Vic Edelbrock Sr. to help develop a parts warehousing system were fertilized by work to create a distribution path that evolved into the core method practiced today.
Of course, with growth comes accountability. Recognizing the need for a unification of purpose and ways to build and sustain their businesses, a pioneering group of high-performance parts manufacturers banded together to form the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association. It was 1963.
As SEMA and the industry grew and the since-renamed Specialty Equipment Market Association’s impact on the automotive landscape became more visible, it was only a matter of time until its members fell under the mandates of governmental laws and regulations, particularly those of an environmental nature. Perhaps, the first such encounter occurred in the fall of 1966, when a small number of specialty-equipment manufacturers met in downtown Los Angeles with a person later to become an ally of the industry. His name was Eric Grant. At the time, Grant represented a governmental agency that evolved into the California
Air Resources Board (CARB). In no uncertain terms, Grant outlined concerns about how the specialty-equipment industry needed to be regulated and held responsible for the potentially emissions-related modifications such components enabled. He also discussed compliance requirements.
Further, Grant indicated that the engine-component design limits to which OEMs were producing performance engines for the era’s musclecars would be the initial “standards” by which specialty parts would be evaluated (e.g., no testing required; just certain dimensional parameters met). His statements were both alarming and reassuring. These are vivid recollections because I attended that meeting along with others who included Willie Garner, Harry Weber, Bob Wyman, Vic Edelbrock Jr., Paul Schiefer, Els Lohn, Ed Iskenderian, Fred Offenhauser and Ray Brock. Brock and I were there representing Hot Rod magazine and Petersen Publishing Company, principally because of Hot Rod’s vast performance enthusiast readership that eventually stood to be affected by the meeting’s outcome.
“I recall thinking that unless SEMA took a proactive position concerning emissions, sound and safety, we stood to become regulated without an opportunity to be a part of the regulatory process that was establishing the rules for compliance.” —Vic Edelbrock Jr.
Washington, D.C. He had provided financial aid to help establish this service, and Edelbrock formed the first group of committees dealing with environmental issues. One of these addressed emissions regulations.
“I recall thinking that unless SEMA took a proactive position concerning emissions, sound and safety, we stood to become regulated without an opportunity to be a part of the regulatory process that was establishing the rules for compliance,” Edelbrock said. “The emissions committee I formed was intended to not only consider issues I felt would be of concern to the membership, but to inform governmental people not familiar with our industry of what we were all about. There was also a PR factor because of a perception outside our industry that we were operating in barns with dirt floors, and that was obviously not the case at all. Looking back, those committees were the beginning of the industry’s efforts to address regulatory issues in a realistic and practical way. Today, the need to continue this type effort is even stronger.”
In time, environmental concerns about emissions-related aftermarket components became more prevalent, and it wasn’t long until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized that the specialty-parts industry came under scrutiny of the federal Clean Air Act—specifically, its anti-tampering provisions. Other automotive trade associations were facing similar issues. And since many of these groups had individually approached the EPA for dispute resolutions and ways to conform to environmental rules, the agency requested a unified voice to be formed to avoid multiple agendas.
As a result, the Automotive Liaison Council (ALC) was created, and SEMA became a member along with the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the Automotive Parts Rebuilders Association (APRA) and other related associations. Soon, however, it was apparent that the needs and objectives of specialty-parts manufacturers differed from those in the more traditional automotive aftermarket, so SEMA withdrew from the ALC and set out on its own to address regulatory problems specific to its membership. By so doing, SEMA broadened its visibility and exposure on the regulatory landscape while increasing its resolve to find ways of helping members meet growing and challenging environmental requirements.
All the while, the SEMA Emissions Committee was attempting to marshal interest and participation on behalf of manufacturers that were building and selling emissions-related parts. This same small group of committee members was also dealing with what had become CARB, an agency increasing its familiarity with and concerns about certain specialty parts. As a result of this concern and because no methods existed for compliance with California’s own emissions anti-tampering requirements, SEMA set about to create and implement what became known as the CARB Executive Order (EO) program.
“In retrospect, during the ’70s and ’80s, we found that the CARB was becoming increasingly aggressive in the enforcement of Section 27156 of the California Motor Vehicle Code [anti-tampering provisions],” said SEMA General Counsel Russ Deane. “This section precludes the sales of products that modify the emissions control systems or performance of vehicles equipped with specialty parts, unless exempted by CARB. At the time, there was no procedure to obtain such an exemption; therefore, none of these type of parts were legal for sale in California.
“In addition, with the advent of ‘cease and desist’ orders then being issued by CARB, it was critical that we find a way to bring our products into compliance with the regulations. However, we first needed regulations to which we could comply. After some time and discussions with CARB staff, SEMA was able to develop a program that allowed parts manufacturers to obtain CARB approval for products by a method that minimized levels of testing, provided reasonable testing criteria and limited the amount of administrative paperwork. This became the Executive Order certification program that we enjoy today.
“Was the development of this program worth SEMA’s investment of time and resources? A quick look at the current state of our industry would seem to answer this question in the affirmative,” furthered Deane.
As the CARB EO process began filtering into industry compliance practices—and in the interest of helping its members address emissions regulations—SEMA initiated a program to enable the voluntary identification and marking of emissions-related products. Bob Keller, now retired from Turbonetics, was an active participant in that project.
“At the time, there was concern that SEMA members selling emissions-related parts were unsure about their legality in California, so we began discussing an ‘emissions identification program’ for which we ultimately got the approval of both the EPA and CARB,” Keller recalled. “It might have been considered our version of a voluntary self-certification program, where parts manufacturers used colored stickers on packaging that identified the compliance status of their products. The program was effective, although in time there seemed to be a lack of participation within the SEMA membership, and the program became less effective.”
Recent updates to the Black Book, including formatting for online use, were designed to further simplify the overall emissions compliance process. The Black Book is available on www.sema.org/black-book
Bob Burch and Frank Bohanan, then SEMA’s technical affairs gurus, combined their experiences to collect and format the complex body of information that contained the compliance process.
“I remember that our objective was to carve a path through the jungle of governmental language,” Bohanan said. “Both CARB and the EPA had information out there, but it was pretty much unusable. Our job was to take whatever was available and put it into a form that made sense and could be used by SEMA members.”
Titled the Black Book, this publication initially became available to SEMA members in the early ’90s. Recent updates, including formatting for online use, were designed to further simplify the overall emissions compliance process. SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting was then and remains involved in how the association assists its membership with regulatory and compliance-related issues.
“Looking back on that time, it’s as important now as then that our industry be keenly aware of the responsibilities that come with regulations,” Kersting said. “We were afforded an opportunity to demonstrate that SEMA members deserved a chance to continue in business with these types of parts if we could be compliant. What I have concerns about today is that we cannot afford to become complacent as an industry and allow ourselves to fall behind in becoming and remaining compliant with certain parts. We have a place at the table with the regulators and legislators based on the credibility we’ve been able to establish by meeting compliance requirements through the EO program. It’s critical that we continue to take advantage of this credibility as an industry by utilizing the ongoing certification opportunities we’ve provided our membership. If we fail to take that advantage, the consequences are far more onerous than any perceived problems with becoming compliant; we destroy our credibility and literally lose our place at the table. The newest version of the Black Book is SEMA’s most recent effort to provide a path for achieving compliance status and avoiding unwanted consequences.”
Going forward, SEMA continues to monitor information and activities that point to potential regulatory problems and their solutions. SEMA strives diligently on behalf of its membership to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information available pertaining to emissions compliance-related issues. The Black Book takes into account fpecific compliance procedures, shares answers to questions dealing with the process, provides marketing guidelines and reveals ways to help keep testing costs to a minimum. At a time when it appears that the intensity of governmental regulations may be increasing, it’s critically important to recognize and utilize the services SEMA provides its members in addressing these issues.
Provided to SEMA members, the Black Book is available on www.sema.org/black-book. The information is designed and presented to provide a clear path to obtaining CARB and EPA compliance for emissions-related specialty aftermarket components and systems. If you are a manufacturer of emissions-related specialty parts, it will be an investment of time well spent.