Auto Inspections Question Goes to Finish Line

By Bill Dries

The new fiscal year for local governments begins in less than a month and with it city of Memphis funding for auto inspections ends, leaving the emissions testing requirement in limbo if there is no further movement.


The Memphis City Council voted last year to cut funding for the inspections and this year approved a severance package for the city employees who work at the auto inspection stations.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam upped the ante in the standoff last week when he sent word through his chief of staff that the state would not intervene.

He told Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell that the state will not take over auto inspections in Memphis.

In a Wednesday, May 29, letter to Memphis City Council members, Wharton said Haslam chief of staff Mark Cate told them Tuesday, May 28, of Haslam’s stand and that “nor would the state provide any fiscal assistance in the operation of a program.”

That left the emissions testing as either a process county government could assume responsibility for or the state could. In other Tennessee cities, the testing is done by the state for a fee motorists are charged.

But after the first of July, Wharton wrote, “The state will notify the Environmental Protection Agency that the city of Memphis has ended the program.”

That will put the state out of compliance with a federal air quality plan and the federal agency could give the state 18 months to come into compliance with federal air quality standards.

During that time, Wharton said the state and Shelby County, including all cities within the county, would have to demonstrate that they are making a “good faith effort” toward a solution.

The agency could also impose sanctions that include new clean air standards and additional fees on new industry in Shelby County and the loss of up to $100.4 million in federal highway transportation funds for the state. That could include the loss of $33.2 million in highway funding to Shelby County government and between $1 million and $2.5 million for each of the five largest suburban towns and cities.

Meanwhile, council member Lee Harris said Thursday he will press ahead with an ordinance up for first reading Tuesday, June 3, that would exempt Memphis vehicle owners from the inspection requirement once the funding runs out. The exemption would last until someone else assumes funding of the responsibility, which Harris and others on the council hope would make the inspections a countywide requirement.

Third and final reading would be after the July 1 start of the fiscal year, but Harris said he may amend the ordinance Tuesday to make it retroactive to July 1.

Council members cut the funding for auto inspections last year to show their dissatisfaction with vehicle owners in the city having to undergo the inspections while those who live in Shelby County outside Memphis are not required to have the inspections.

Wharton said in his letter that he will be talking to Luttrell “to look at next steps that the local Air Pollution Control office may take.”