Sam Stockard, The Murfreesboro Post, April 24, 2018
Tennessee lawmakers took a step toward eliminating emissions tests for motor vehicles with the state House voting 96-0 to let counties such as Rutherford end the decades-old requirement put in place to cut air pollution.
But the legislation also contains an amendment allowing any county that ceases an inspection and maintenance program to increase county clerk’s fees by $4 for vehicle registration and renewals.
And, the bill doesn’t let counties such as Rutherford opt out of emissions testing but ends the program in Tennessee if the Environmental Protection Agency approves, according to Kim Schofinski, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“The bill does allow a county that has its own program to take action to keep its emissions testing program,” Schofinski said.
The department will “broaden the scope” of its analysis on previous legislation exempting vehicles three years old and newer and its impact on air quality. The analysis could take six months to a year, and further steps will be determined by those results, she said.
Obtaining EPA approval to stop emissions testing could take three years or more depending on how quickly the federal government works, according to Schofinski, and “substitute measures” would be needed if the state’s analysis shows eliminating emissions testing “interferes with air quality.”
The matter is to be considered in the Senate this week.
The 1990 federal Clean Air Act forced Tennessee to set up strict regulations to reduce air pollution from mobile sources in counties not meeting federal air quality standards.
The legislation surfaced this year following a 2017 Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation report showing all 95 Tennessee counties met federal air quality health standards, negating the need for pollutions test, legislators say.
The House bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, an Ooltewah Republican, and the entire Rutherford County House delegation signed on as co-sponsors. Some 1.5 million vehicles went through emissions testing last year in Rutherford and other affected counties, Hamilton, Davidson, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson.
Emissions tests cost $9 in Rutherford, and sometimes motorists spend hundreds of dollars having vehicles repaired to pass tests, which is required before they can buy tags. The mandate is placed on all vehicle models 1975 and newer powered by gasoline or diesel and weighing up to 10,500 pounds.
“The mandatory vehicle emissions testing requirement places unnecessary stress and financial burdens on hardworking families,” said state Rep. Dawn White, a Murfreesboro Republican seeking election to the state Senate District 13 seat. “House Bill 1782 moves Tennessee away from the annual emissions testing requirement, and I know this move will have a positive impact on Rutherford County residents.”
Sen. Bill Ketron, who signed on as a sponsor of the Senate bill, said the “burden” of emissions testing is a common complaint among constituents.
“Rutherford County was pulled into the attainment zone mostly due to the pollutants that were coming out of Davidson County. Also, we have seen many changes with technologies that produce cleaner cars, so it is past time to end this burdensome requirement,” said Ketron, who is running for Rutherford County mayor this year.
Several lawmakers contend emissions testing is unfair to people least able to afford it.
Working in the auto industry for many years, state Rep. Mike Sparks said he has seen “the financial strain” vehicle emissions testing puts on families.
With the state meeting Clean Air Act standards, the Smyrna Republican said he believes the legislation is “a solution that will create more financial flexibility for our citizens while protecting their health and preserving our environment.”
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.