The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday announced a final rule easing the way for the conversion of cars and trucks, particularly older vehicles, from gasoline or diesel power to alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas (CNG), propane, alcohol and electricity.

The EPA action came at the same time President Obama for the first time talked expansively about the benefits of natural gas (see separate story).

The revised procedures will vary based on the age of the vehicle or engine being converted. EPA said it has found that the procedures for older vehicles and engines can be streamlined, while maintaining environmental safeguards.

As opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach, EPA’s process is now based on whether a vehicle or engine is new (up to two years old), intermediate age (three to 10 years), or outside its expected useful life (more than 10 years). Also, yearly recertifications will no longer be required for any category.

Previous EPA regulations required vehicle and engine conversion systems to be covered by a certificate of conformity to gain a regulatory exemption from potential tampering charges. The new rule provides clear compliance pathways for alternative fuel converters to gain exemption from the prohibition against tampering.

Conversion manufacturers can qualify for an exemption from tampering by demonstrating that the converted vehicle or engine satisfies EPA emissions requirements. The demonstration and notification requirements for new and relatively new vehicles and engines will continue to involve a certification process that is very similar to previous practice.

The notification and demonstration requirements for intermediate age vehicles and engines include testing and submission of data to show that the converted vehicle or engine continues to meet applicable standards. The notification and demonstration process for outside useful life vehicles and engines involves submission of a description of the conversion system that provides sufficient technical detail to determine that the conversion will not increase emissions.

EPA also is finalizing several technical amendments that update the exhaust and evaporative emission testing requirements for both original equipment manufacturers and converted gaseous-fueled vehicles. The amendments allow flexibility in determining compliance with EPA nonmethane organic material standards, and allow manufacturers of gaseous-fueled vehicles to submit statements of compliance in lieu of test data to demonstrate compliance with exhaust formaldehyde and evaporative emissions standards.

Other technical amendments provide clarity and consistency to regulatory references for clean alternative fuel conversion and technical corrections and clarifications for the light-duty greenhouse gas clean alternative fuel conversion procedures.

Promoters of natural gas vehicles for several years have been urging the EPA to streamline its regulations for testing and certifying conversion kits, particularly for small-volume manufacturers. The conversion process itself is not difficult, but currently each vehicle converted must be individually tested and certified. With the more rigorous certification process, there have been reports of back lot conversions outside the law, to the point where state officials in Utah, which has been promoting natural gas-fueled vehicles, said they could not estimate how many CNG-fired vehicles were on the road.

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