LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Nothing in the Clean Air Act forbids farmers and independent repair shops from making emissions and other repairs to agriculture equipment, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a letter to the National Farmers Union on Aug. 4.
Equipment manufacturers often say the Clean Air Act doesn't allow farmers and independent repair shops to repair emissions equipment, raising concerns about liability for improper or even potentially dangerous repairs.
Regan went a step further in telling the group the Clean Air Act actually encourages such repairs.
"Crucially, the Clean Air Act makes no distinction between repair by a manufacturer versus another party," Regan said in the letter that was sent in response to a June 13 letter from NFU President Rob Larew.
"Actions that qualify as repair or replacement are allowed under the Clean Air Act regardless of who makes them. Moreover, nothing in the Clean Air Act or the EPA's regulations limits a manufacturer's ability to provide service tools and information to consumers and independent repair facilities for the purpose of repairing their equipment."
Regan went on to say in the letter, "The Clean Air Act denotes Congress' concern about the ways in which manufacturers might impede the ability of other parties to repair regulated equipment and puts in place safeguards to prevent that from happening."
For instance, the law prohibits manufacturers from writing their service instructions in a way that "steers end users away from independent repairers."
Section 207(c)(3) of the Clean Air Act prohibits service instructions from including any condition on purchasers "using, in connection with such vehicle or engine, any component or service which is identified by brand, trade, or corporate name; or directly or indirectly distinguishing between service performed by the franchised dealers of such manufacturer or any other service establishments with which such manufacturer has a commercial relationship and service performed by independent automotive repair facilities with which such manufacturer has no commercial relationship."
Regan said the same section of the Clean Air Act seeks to ensure that equipment owners know their options for independent repair by "requiring that the manufacturer shall provide in boldface type on the first page of the written maintenance instructions notice that maintenance, replacement, or repair of the emission control devices and systems may be performed by any automotive repair establishment or individual."
ADMINISTRATION RESPONSE RARE
Larew told DTN in an interview on Monday that it is fairly rare for his group to hear back from officials in any administration when letters or other communications are sent.
Regan's response certainly caught NFU's attention.
"Not just this administration, but any administration," Larew said. "You're getting a letter back from one of the federal agencies. That not only brings a great deal of clarity but then goes a little bit further. I think it is certainly really important and we think substantial. I would also just say that while it's not directly tied to the administration's competition agenda, it certainly would suggest that efforts across all the agencies to make sure that there's competition, and right to repair we certainly see as one of those that it's hopefully gaining some traction."
John Deere declined to comment when contacted by DTN on Monday.
Equipment manufacturers have been signing memorandums of understanding with the American Farm Bureau Federation in the past year or so, agreeing to provide -- at a cost to farmers -- diagnostic and other tools needed to repair farm equipment.
Larew said Farmers Union members are hoping the MOUs will yield more access to needed tools.
"I've heard none of our members say that they've seen any substantial change," Larew told DTN. "In fact, what we hear primarily from our members is this real frustration, if you will, with the MOU, which ties certain members' hands from effecting change."
The MOUs forbid Farm Bureau members from taking part in state-level efforts to pass legislation on the right to repair.
PROHIBITED BY CLEAN AIR ACT
Larew's letter to Regan also asks about what the Clean Air Act prohibits on ag equipment repairs.
Regan said the Clean Air Act prohibits anyone from removing or "rendering inoperative" any device or element of design of emissions control systems.
"The act, implementing regulations and the EPA's policy and practice are aligned in preventing tampering not by limiting access to independent repair, but rather by enforcing the prohibition against tampering against any party that does so," Regan said in the letter.
Regan closed the letter: "I appreciate your letter and it's providing us an opportunity to again address this important issue. Like the National Farmers Union and its members, the EPA believes barriers to the proper repair and maintenance of nonroad equipment is harmful to the environment."
Larew said the EPA's clarification on the Clean Air Act will go a long way in Farmers Union efforts on the right-to-repair front.
"I think it's really as much as anything (used) in education efforts," he said.
"That will be an effort to make sure that again, state and federal legislators know, that state attorneys general know, because we know that this issue has been one of the items that equipment manufacturers have repeatedly used in state and federal conversations to somehow justify their lack of access to repair."
Read more on DTN:
"Who Should Fix Ag Equipment Emissions?" https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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