By now, hot rodders should be used to the mountain of legislative obstacles they face in the pursuit of their hobby. We've dealt with everything from vehicle registration issues, emissions-inspection regulations, anti-cruising ordinances, inoperable-vehicle laws, and attempts to restrict the use of various aftermarket products, just to name a few. Through it all, no challenge has been big enough to shut us down, and hot rodders, hot rodding, and hot rods have continued to thrive.

One of the biggest issues that continues to affect hot rodders right now is that of painting your car. We've already seen shifts in this area over the years. Lacquer paints, for example, can no longer be used legally in many areas. The same is true of high-pressure, siphon-style paint guns, and many painters have chosen or been forced to switch to high-volume/low-pressure (HVLP) guns.

The next big change could possibly affect the ability of hobbyists to purchase automotive paint and related products. For a long time, there have been efforts from the industry and from government agencies to reduce the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other toxic material going into the atmosphere. VOCs are found in paint, among other products, and are controlled by various govern-mental regulations from the federal to local level.

Now, many hot rodders are worrying and wondering whether or not a ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), expected later this year for possible imple-mentation by as early as 2008, would take restrictions several steps further by limiting the use of automotive paints to licensed and certified professional shops and dealerships, taking it out of the hands of non-commercial hobbyists once and for all.

Not everybody in this hobby thinks that's necessarily a catastrophe. One of our sister magazines has already recom-mended to its readers that, in light of the proliferation of paint ordinances already in place, the cost and makeup of modern paints and proper materials, and the quality that a pro painter provides, it's a better choice to take your car and your checkbook to a professional shop where the job will be done safely and correctly. It's a reasonable argument, but we like the idea of hot rodders actually being able to make that choice for themselves, instead of having no choice at all. And we know paying somebody else to perform your hobby for you is contrary to the definition of hot rodding for many of you.

Recently, this issue received some attention among hot rodders as the result of a letter sent to the EPA from the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), supporting controls on the purchase and use of paints, a certification program for shops, and restrictions on the sale and use of refinishing products to anybody not employed by a certified shop. In the year and a half since the letter was written, it has found its way onto the Internet, setting off a flurry of contradictory information and an alarmist reaction from many hobbyists. To try to clear up some of the misunderstanding and misinformation flying around the hobby, we called the ASA and NADA reps who authored the letter to get a firsthand explanation of their position, and asked them how their agency's positions would affect hot rodders.

The ASA mem-bership is made up of independent auto-service and repair businesses; NADA is comprised of franchised automotive dealerships, slightly less than half of which have an autobody operation as part of their business. Neither NADA nor ASA acts as an advocate for the home painter, but at the same time, neither agency is specifically trying to target the home painter.

The concern for these agencies is that regulations affecting the industry be consistent and applied evenly throughout the industry, so there is no unfair competition. Doug Greenhaus of NADA elaborated, saying that while dealerships must be licensed and bonded, smaller body shops are currently less regulated. In addition, the way body shops are regulated varies widely around the country. "NADA has taken the position that if you're going to do it, then do it fairly, so that everybody who is an emitter of these air toxics is treated equally," Greenhaus states. "Whatever costs a business has to incur under the rules-whatever it is they have to do-we want to make sure it's applied fairly across the board."

Similarly, Bob Redding of ASA is seeking the best interest of his agency by focusing on a similar equal standard within the industry. "From our perspective, what we're hoping to see is something that is a baseline of regulation for commercial businesses, and that would include training and equipment," he says. "The targets, from our perspective, are those persons in business commercially and those shops that should adhere to this regulation."

Both men indicated that their focus is on businesses and commercial shops. Neither NADA nor ASA has focused on the hobbyist, either as somebody to protect or as somebody to target. Of course, even somebody who is not a target can get caught in the crossfire. The critical issue for hobbyists is to prevent that from happening.

So how do we do that? For an answer to that question, we contacted Jason Tolleson, director of the SEMA Action Network. This organization, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is part hobby advocate and part legislative watchdog. Its Web site describes itself as "a nationwide partnership of car clubs, and individual enthusiasts who work together to impact legislation that affects car and truck hobbyists of all kinds." It also works very closely with the EPA to make sure environmental goals can be met in a way that does not adversely disrupt our hobby.

Tolleson clearly remembers the Internet frenzy that occurred in response to the previously mentioned letter from ASA and NADA to the EPA. Because of the disruption that caused, he was very careful to remind us that no ruling has been put forward by the EPA yet, and cautioned us that it is too early for the SEMA Action Network-or anybody in the hobby-to jump to conclusions.

A ruling by the EPA, he explains, is the first part of a long process. Once the initial rule (called an NPRM, or notice of proposed rule making) is presented, it still has to be vetted through the public. Groups such as SEMA, NADA, ASA, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, as well as the general public, have an opportunity to respond. The EPA considers any concerns raised, and another rule posting is made. Even after the final rule is presented, there is still an opportunity for comments and potential change. At this moment, no NPRM has been released regarding controls and restrictions on the purchase and use of paints or any certification programs for shops. SEMA will respond when one does; in the meantime, it can't take a position on something that doesn't exist.

We did express to Tolleson our own hope that any potential ruling restricting the sale and use of automotive paints would be for the purpose of fair and consistent regulations across the industry, allowing exemptions for non-commercial hobbyists. In return, he gave us a link to an informative FAQ page on the EPA Web site (www.epa.gov/ttn/ atw/area/auto/autobody_refinishing_faq_12-30-05.pdf) that provides a lot of specific information regarding what we can expect in the future. Check it out. The news might be better than you expected.

What action can hobbyists take to promote hot rodding, besides wishful thinking or needlessly inflaming the issue on the Internet? One step is to make sure the painting procedures and equipment you're currently using are safe and up-to-date. That would include properly using paints and related chemicals, replacing high-pressure siphon guns with HVLP guns, working in a well-ventilated spray booth, and disposing of the unused chemicals properly, among other things. Another step is to learn what the existing regulations are in your area. We've included the Web site and phone number of state air-quality agencies elsewhere in this article. And you or your club can join the SEMA Action Network (for free at www.semasan.com), which provides news on hobby-related issues and legislation around the country.

Green PaintOne of the environmental drawbacks of paint is the amount of atmosphere unfriendly VOCs in the solvent. Auto Air Colors, makers of water-based paints with virtually no VOCs, has been around for almost 30 years, but the product is now making a big splash with painters. According to Craig Kennedy, the company's vice president of sales and marketing, these paints, which use good old water instead of solvent as the carrying agent, were first used to airbrush T-shirts and automotive graphics. Within the last five years, when improvements in pigments and ingredients started coming out, Auto Air was able to create an exterior grade that can be used to cover an entire car.

"Paint is basically two components: binder and pigment," Kennedy tells us. "There are other ingredients for characteristics, but it's basically those two. Our pigments are the same. What's different is the binder. We're using a binder that is a plastic polymer. It's a form of latex, like your house paint."

Instead of flashing, like solvent paints do, the binder in Auto Air water-borne paints evaporates. The cure time between coats is a lot longer than other paints, but harmful VOCs are not released into the air during that time. Another advantage is that the paint can be used right out of the can, without reducers or hardeners, and can be sprayed directly on bare, un-primered metal. According to Kennedy, a waterborne clear is not too far away, all of which should make environmentalists as happy as painters. Whether it does or not depends on a few factors, such as whether or not the EPA extends its attention beyond VOCs to other airborne elements of paint, specifically overspray.

Until that day, Auto Air Colors may be the environmentally safe compliant paint of the future. "They've tested us many times," Kennedy said. "We've had a lot of red-tape people take the paint and say they'll get back to us. We haven't heard back yet."

Check out the Web site at www.autoaircolors.com