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  • Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

    Unraveling the EPA Code

    Following the Money Trail

    By Jim Younkin

    From EPA website: In general, it is clear that EPA's primary objective in enforcing the statutory prohibition on "tampering" must be to assure unimpaired emission control of motor vehicles throughout their useful life. It is EPA's policy to attempt to achieve this objective without imposing unnecessary restraints on commerce in the automotive aftermarket.

    For the longest time I have been wondering why there was so much talk about and emphasis on EPA Certified Conversions. They would say that EPA Certification was the only “legal” way to convert to CNG. This refrain always seemed to come from those who actually sold or installed EPA conversions themselves. Everyone told me it was a money thing. They said ”follow the money”. Let’s attempt to do that.

    In the beginning the EPA wanted Cleaner Air (The Clean Air Act)1. Then they found some cities that did not meet their “standards”2. They mandated that “Covered Fleets”3 should “convert” a certain percentage4 of their vehicles to AFV (Alternative Fuel Vehicles). Having created a problem by this EPA mandate they were now in a position to offer a solution. They offered to “Certify” CNG conversions5. This would be good for the Fleets, if their conversions were EPA approved this would make them eligible for Federal and State rebates6 and Incentives. What is an “EPA” certification? The EPA tests the CNG vehicle and uses DF’s (Deterioration Factors)7 along with other tests to Guarantee that the vehicle will continue to run clean throughout its useful life.8 This “useful life” varies from 50,000 to 120,000 and up to 10 years9 whichever comes first. The EPA only Certifies conversions for new vehicles. They do not certify older vehicles10. That explains why “EPA” conversions are all newer vehicles.

    As the Fleet owners collected the Federal and State rebates the Vehicle Dealerships collected their New Car fees. At the same time, the installers were able to collect inflated install fees since the Fleet owners were collecting the Federal and State rebates.

    (As I researched this I had an “aha” moment. What happens to the Federal and State rebates if a customer is not told about them or if the Fleet being converted is for a Non Profit Corporation? I found out that the converter can sell the rebates to someone else.)

    Now can you see the money trail? First the mandate: “Clean the Air, convert the Fleets”. Then the EPA offers a solution: We will “certify” (for a fee) CNG conversions which satisfy the requirement in the Federal and State rebates that require “EPA certified conversions”. The Fleets begin to convert with EPA Certified conversions. The new car dealers (who get to be exclusive suppliers) and EPA approved conversion shops (who will receive inflated conversion fees) are part of the money trail also. This will give the ultimate consumer of the EPA Certified Vehicle the opportunity to be “Green” and help the environment (and collect the Federal and State rebates).

    You would think that this is a Win-Win for everyone involved, but is it? What about the consumer? If he wants to be “Green” he will have to come up with a lot of “Green” to pay for that privilege. He will need to have a new vehicle (remember the EPA “Certification” is only for the useful life of the vehicle) this vehicle would have to be a Ford or GM since these are the only EPA Certified conversions available. He would also have to pay the inflated conversion price (since he will then receive Federal and State rebates).

    Oh and by the way there are more downsides for the consumer, their vehicle depreciates rapidly. The EPA certified conversions are mostly gas guzzling trucks and the expensive EPA conversion is only “certified” for the “useful life” of the vehicle. Also, there is no “in use” testing so who knows how long the vehicle will continue to run clean?

    Now let’s try another scenario. The EPA gets out of the way. People convert not because of rebates and mandates but because it is good for the environment and it is affordable. In order for there to be widespread CNG conversions, people should be able to convert whatever they are driving. Of course, the conversions need to safe and clean running. Many states have their own Emission programs that could do the testing to verify that they remain clean running. Those who sell the conversion kits are already having classes to certify CNG installation and tank safety.

    In the US the conversion of vehicles to Natural Gas has basically come to a stand still. A lot of the older CNG vehicles are being taken out of service and new conversions are not keeping up. The drum beat of EPA only has scared many would be CNG customers away. If the true intent of the EPA was to “assure unimpaired emission control of motor vehicles …without imposing unnecessary restraints on commerce in the automotive aftermarket” they need to take a different approach, one that will show the people that the government can be a help and not an obstacle. There are so many positives to CNG conversion that producers and consumers alike are ready and willing to take advantage of them if they are free to do so.










    10) (page 3 half way down: Retrofitting preMY2003 Vehicles)

    This article may be reproduced only in its entirety, including authorship. For more information visit

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    Jim Younkin

  • #2
    Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

    Hi Jim,

    EPA's approach to all mobile emissions necessarily requires huge economies of scale in order to comply, thus causing small business such as mine undue hardship. Diesel retrofits have the same barriers:

    There following might clarify some of the elements in your post above:
    1. The opening quote could be footnoted as Memorandum 1A and its addendum

    2. The alt fuel fleet requirement does not specify conversions. Just that now up to 70% of government fleet vehicles should be alt fuel capable. Hence the craziness with flex-fuel ethanol vehicles streaming out of Detroit never to see a drop of ethanol in the tank.

    3. EPA waives in-use testing requirements for small volume manufacturers (SVMs). California does not (under the Clean Air Act mobile emissions can be regulated by California on its own so long as they are more stringent, and other states may chose to adopt the California standards)

    4. It is a myth that only new vehicle models can be granted alt fuel conversion certification. There is no restriction by EPA for pursuing conformity certifications on any vehicle, regardless of if it is the current or past model years. For example, we are going to soon have a certification on the GM 5.3 liter for model years 2007, 2008, and 2009. If we wanted to certify 2006, 2005 or even 2001 we could do that too -- it would just require the lab work. It just happened that our 2008 lab work can carry back to 2007 due to GM using the same test vehicle in both years. But if we don't have a commitment for at least a dozen or more of a certain model year and test group it is crazy to spend the money to get the certification.

    5. If the buyer is federally tax exempt (municipality, foundation, etc), the seller can take the credit. The credit must be used by the seller and cannot be sold to another party nor carried forward/backward to other tax years. It cannot be used toward alternative minimum tax (AMT) payments either. It's another one of those ways Congressmen pat themselves on the back for funding worthy causes while knowing full well most of it won't be funded. Dan Boren's he NAT GAS Act would fix this:

    See also:

    6. Inflated install fees are simply due to recovering the lab expenses required to get EPA certification and not necessarily due to fleet requirements. Our Impala ran about $50k in lab work, the 5.3 liter got thru in $20k or so. But then now we have to run another set of tests on the 2009 vehicles too. It's crazy and you are right, the hefty lab fees end up being paid by the US taxpayer via credits to the buyer if it is a dedicated conversion (zero if it is bi-fuel).

    7. EPA charges us 1% of the value-added by the conversion. But they are double-dipping here: every one of our vehicles converted already had fees paid by the automaker to begin with. We must pay a minimum of $750 for each certification granted (for example, if the upfit is $10,000 we pay $100 per car and must buy at least 8 cars worth of fees on the cert application). By the way, this $750 is the same hurdle if we want to renew certs when they expire + submitting all of the paperwork and lab results again.

    8. Ford and GM alt fuel conversion certs are out there because that is what fleets have been buying. Again, the EPA hurdle makes it impossible to bet the farm on consumers showing up to buy a particular vehicle and engine type, although we kind of did that with the Impala (thank heavens it is also a popular fleet vehicle and we got some great traction there) and TransEco is doing that with their Focus.

    9. If EPA got out of the way we will end up with some vehicles running around with check engine lights on and catalysts getting burned up due to some folks changing the fuel without understanding how to calibrate the fuel trims and OBD threshold monitors on the new fuel. At least that is what happened in the past which caused EPA policy makers to create Memorandum 1A. Obviously there has to be some method to prove-out a fuel conversion so that the above problems don't occur down the road. But is the current cost-ineffective method the way to do it?

    In a nutshell the process is:
    a) Run a baseline FTP along with HWFET ($1,000 each) to get your city and highway emissions and to determine your emission standard (Bin 2,3,4,5 etc). If you screw up and the emissions are worse than the OEM's fuel configuration you have to recalibrate and keep doing it again.

    b) Run six OBD demonstrations: rich, lean, O2 failure, catalyst failure, misfire, EGR (if bi-fuel). In each show that you have recalibrated the monitors to trip the MIL (Malfunction Indicator Lamp aka "check engine light") and set the right OBD codes at 1.5 times the standard you are certifying to. Each requires an FTP ($1,000) so if you nail it you can be done with this for $6k. But the reality is you will have to do some trial and error so it generally is going to be $20k or more. And don't forget that you have to buy at least one catalyst to destroy in your cat demonstration.

    And then there is the time required. Each FTP requires a 12 hour soak so you can only run 4 per week. This is assuming you can get the lab to schedule you in for consecutive days and weeks

    So how do we fix this? EPA has taken one giant step recently in allowing us to do one OBD demonstration per OBD Family:

    We have our 2008 OBD demonstration approval for GM's OBD Groups 7 and 12b. If you have a customer wanting any vehicle type within these groups let us know. We have the 2009 matrix from GM now and can get you this, but it is essentially unchanged. All we need to do is get a vehicle to the lab from any of the associated test groups for a baseline FTP and HWFET, submit paperwork and $750 for our first 8 or so vehicles in that family.

    Another way EPA could help is to allow Hot 505's instead of full FTP's for the OBD work. These tests produce similar results to the FTP but are half the cost and can be run back-to-back.

    Anyway, gotta run. Hope you can get these corrections into post above. I hate seeing folks get the wrong idea that alt fuel converters are scheming to rip off the general public. I wish it were easier but as a small business I can only do what makes economic sense under the current regulations.

    I really ought to write up the whole EPA cert procedure. This document is kinda the Bible but it is missing lots of real-world details, especially costs, etc:

    The OBD guidance is here:

    Last edited by John Mitton; 01-23-2011, 10:53 PM. Reason: Updated very old post to reflect new realities


    • #3
      Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...


      What about CARB certifications? Is it done using the same tests and procedure, just more stringent emissions standards?


      • #4
        Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

        CARB is a similar procedure excepting the lab expenses are considerably more expensive. You must have a catalyst aging company burn the cats to 120,000 mile equivalent degradation before you do your OBD II demonstrations. There are additional OBD demonstrations vs. EPA too. And then you must also use expensive CNG fuel in the lab for your tailpipe emissions test. We found that CARB was about 3 times the cost of EPA ($150k vs $50k).


        • #5
          Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

          Has anyone read the clean air act? Seriously! I'm amazed to find out how clearly written the clean air act is about after market CNG conversions. First off its not tampering or illegal. People are pointing to EPA rules and regulations but the all hinge on what's considered tampering. This is the law that gets everyone bent up about tampering.

          (B) for any person to manufacture or sell, or offer to sell, or install, any part or component intended for use with, or as part of, any motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine, where a principal effect of the part or component is to bypass, defeat, or render inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine in compliance with regulations under this subchapter, and where the person knows or should know that such part or component is being offered for sale or installed for such use or put to such use;

          No one ever mentions this law written right below the above.

          No action with respect to any element of design referred to in paragraph (3) (including any adjustment or alteration of such element) shall be treated as a prohibited act under such paragraph (3) if such action is in accordance with section 7549 of this title. Nothing in paragraph (3) shall be construed to require the use of manufacturer parts in maintaining or repairing any motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine. For the purposes of the preceding sentence, the term “manufacturer parts” means, with respect to a motor vehicle engine, parts produced or sold by the manufacturer of the motor vehicle or motor vehicle engine. No action with respect to any device or element of design referred to in paragraph (3) shall be treated as a prohibited act under that paragraph if
          (i) the action is for the purpose of repair or replacement of the device or element, or is a necessary and temporary procedure to repair or replace any other item and the device or element is replaced upon completion of the procedure, and
          (ii) such action thereafter results in the proper functioning of the device or element referred to in paragraph (3). No action with respect to any device or element of design referred to in paragraph (3) shall be treated as a prohibited act under that paragraph if the action is for the purpose of a conversion of a motor vehicle for use of a clean alternative fuel (as defined in this subchapter) and if such vehicle complies with the applicable standard under section 7521 of this title when operating on such fuel, and if in the case of a clean alternative fuel vehicle (as defined by rule by the Administrator), the device or element is replaced upon completion of the conversion procedure and such action results in proper functioning of the device or element when the motor vehicle operates on conventional fuel.

          Basically you can convert the vehicle as long it still complies with 7521. Basically if the check engine light is off than in my oppinion your okay. It's not like the EPA is going to spend thousands of dollars to do all the testing to verify the conversion doesn't work properly. All this EPA certified kit stuff is a load of you know what.


          • #6
            Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

            Trey, you are right, I have been saying the same thing all along. As a mechanic I always look for reasons to do something instead of reasons not to. There are no EPA cops around every corner, CNG conversions should be openly promoted by the car companies and the state and federal government, instead most people get mired down in red tape, lets cut the tape and teach each other how to safely and economically convert all our vehicles to Natural Gas........
            Jim Younkin


            • #7
              Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

              Laws are written by Congress (and their lobby's); EPA interprets those laws and write the rules to enforce them (at least until recently under Obama, who wants to legislate , ie,Cap & Theft, through Agency rule making- because he does not have the support in the House to pass a new law). Interpretation is the killer here- it's politically charged


              • #8
                Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

                Rtry9a your wrong. The judiciary branch inteprets laws not the EPA. The EPA simply writes regulations to enforce the laws on the books. The EPA wrote...

                40 CFR Subpart F - Exemption of Aftermarket Conversions From Tampering Prohibition

                Rtry9a read the last line three times and commit to memory. In this subpart the EPA lays downs a pathway for an aftermarket conversion installer to receive a blanket tampering waiver. An installer can still install a non-epa certified kit but MAY be liable for tampering if the vehicle falls out of standard in 7521 of the Clean Air Act.

                Let me try to make it more clear....

                If the installer is caught installing a non-epa certified kit that does comply with standard 7521 there is nothing the EPA can do. Its not tampering. If the installer is caught installing a non-epa certified kit that does not comply with standard 7521 they could pose a find of up to $2750 per installation that does not comply. At least thats how I read it. Point to some EPA regulation or law that tells me I'm wrong.

                This is the EPA regulation that grants the exemption...


                Subpart F—Exemption of Aftermarket Conversions From Tampering Prohibition
                Source: 59 FR 48490, Sept. 21, 1994, unless otherwise noted.

                § 85.501 General applicability.
                (a) Sections 85.502 through 85.505 are applicable to aftermarket conversion systems for which an enforcement exemption is sought from the tampering prohibitions contained in section 203 of the Act.

                (b) References in this subpart to engine families and emission control systems shall be deemed to apply to durability groups and test groups as applicable for manufacturers certifying new light-duty vehicles, light-duty trucks, and Otto-cycle complete heavy-duty vehicles under the provisions of 40 CFR part 86, subpart S.

                [65 FR 59943, Oct. 6, 2000]

                § 85.502 Definitions.
                (a) The Act means the Clean Air Act as amended (42 U.S.C. 7501 et seq.).

                (b) Administrator means the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency or his or her authorized representative.

                (c) Aftermarket conversion system means any combination of hardware, including but not limited to fuel storage and fuel metering hardware, which is installed on a light-duty vehicle, light-duty truck, heavy-duty vehicle, or heavy-duty engine with the effect of allowing the vehicle or engine to operate on a fuel other than the fuel which the vehicle or engine was originally certified to use. Components which do not affect the emissions performance of the converted vehicle or engine, as determined by the Administrator, are not included for the purposes of this subpart.

                (d) Aftermarket conversion installer means any company or individual which installs an aftermarket conversion system on a light-duty vehicle, light-duty truck, heavy-duty vehicle, or heavy-duty engine with the effect of allowing the vehicle or engine to operate on a fuel other than the fuel which the vehicle or engine was originally certified to use.

                (e) Aftermarket conversion certifier means any company or individual which assembles the various aftermarket conversion hardware components into a particular combination or configuration and certifies that combination or configuration according to the provisions of this subpart.

                (f) Model Year means the manufacturer's annual production period (as determined by the Administrator) which includes January 1 of such calendar year: Provided, That if the manufacturer has no annual production period, the term model year shall mean the calendar year.

                § 85.503 Conditions of exemption.
                (a) As a condition of receiving an enforcement exemption from the tampering prohibitions contained in section 203 of the Act, an aftermarket conversion certifier must certify the aftermarket conversion system, using the applicable procedures in part 86 of this chapter, and meeting the applicable standards and requirements in §§85.504 and 85.505, and accept liability for in-use performance of the aftermarket conversion system as outlined in this part.

                (b) As a condition of receiving an enforcement exemption from the tampering prohibitions contained in section 203 of the Act, an aftermarket conversion installer must:

                (1) Install a conversion which has been certified as a new vehicle or engine, using the applicable procedures in part 86 of this chapter, and meeting the applicable standards and requirements in §§85.504 and 85.505; and

                (2) Accept liability for in-use performance of the aftermarket conversion system as outlined in this part.

                § 85.504 Applicable standards.
                (a) The emission standards applicable to conversions of 1993 and later model year vehicles and engines are:

                (1) All of the requirements that would apply if the conversion were being certified as if it were a new vehicle or engine.

                (2) If a vehicle or engine to be converted was originally certified to a NOX or particulate family emission limit other than the applicable new vehicle NOX or particulate standard, the family emission limit is the applicable standard.

                (b) The emission standards applicable to conversions of 1992 and earlier model year vehicles and engines are:

                (1) Exhaust hydrocarbons (as applicable by fuel type). The Tier 0 hydrocarbon standards, as applicable by vehicle class, contained in §§86.094–8 and 86.094–9 of this chapter, and the hydrocarbon standards, as applicable by engine class, contained in §§86.094–10 and 86.094–11 of this chapter;

                (2) CO, NOX and particulate. The applicable CO, NOX and particulate standards or NOX and particulate family emission limits the vehicle or engine was originally certified as meeting;

                (3) Evaporative hydrocarbons. Any evaporative requirements applicable to the original vehicle or engine will remain applicable to the conversion if the converted vehicle or engine retains the ability to operate on the fuel which it was designed and certified to use.

                § 85.505 Labeling.
                (a) The aftermarket conversion certifier shall provide with each aftermarket conversion system a supplemental emission control information label, which shall be affixed by the aftermarket conversion installer in a permanent manner to each converted vehicle, in a location adjacent to the original emission control information label required in §86.092–35 of this chapter. If the supplemental label cannot be placed adjacent to the original label, it shall be placed in a location where it will be seen by a person viewing the original label.

                (b) The supplemental label shall be affixed in such a manner that it cannot be removed without destroying or defacing the label. The label shall not be affixed to any equipment which is easily detached from the vehicle.

                (c) The supplemental label shall clearly state that the vehicle has been equipped with an aftermarket conversion system designed to allow it to operate on a fuel other than the fuel it was originally manufactured to operate on, and shall identify the fuel(s) which the vehicle is designed to use.

                (d) The supplemental label shall show the vehicle model year; the aftermarket conversion certifier's name, address and telephone number; the installer's name, address, and telephone number; the date on which the aftermarket conversion system was installed; the mileage of the vehicle at the time of the conversion; and shall state that the converted vehicle complies with federal emission requirements.

                (e) The supplemental label shall list any original parts that were removed during installation of the aftermarket conversion system, as well as any changes in tune-up specifications required for the aftermarket conversion system.


                • #9
                  Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

                  Trey, I read this thread, and others on the board, with much interest, as a potential installer in Corpus Christi, TX. Thanks go to you and others who like John Mitton and rtry9a who spend so much time working through the issues. It is a great way for people like me to stay up to date.

                  I think your interpretation of the laws is correct. You can install a non-EPA system without repercussions as long as you do not worsen the emissions. Whether or not the EPA will get around to checking non-EPA systems is questionable. I would not dismiss it out of hand, as many here do. Those who do should be advised that there are governmental officials who frequent this site.

                  I am responding to your post in reference to the first sentence. The EPA does interpret the law. The judicial branch provides a forum for you to challenge that interpretation. If the interpretation is not challenged, then the EPA interpretation is what you must comply with.

                  Another example of the power of bureaucrats to interpret law that I can point to for comparison is the new "interpretive guidelines" (their terminology) from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services that have forced doctors to alter their practice, with new hoops to jump through and more paperwork, to be in compliance with the law. No new law was enacted; CMS just issued a new interpretation.
                  Last edited by cngsolutions; 01-23-2011, 01:25 PM.


                  • #10
                    Re: Unraveling the EPA Code, follow the money...

                    this is why I drive old cars so it is ez to clean them up with a mixer with no obd as nasty as the older cars are from the mfg it just makes my day when I look at the tailpipe and it looks new just like the new cars I have ruined a few cats before we ran them on a dyno and ex gas analyser as we used to think just because it was cng and it didnot stink it was ok the best learned lessens are the ones that cost you money LOL