The Commercial Appeal
City idles emissions inspection
Impact unclear as stations close Friday
For the first time since the heyday of the E.H. “Boss” Crump political machine, Memphis motorists won’t have to have to undergo auto inspections after the city’s four stations close for good at 3 p.m. Friday.
Coupled with the closing announcement Thursday was official notification that as of Monday, Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn will no longer require inspection certificates when renewing or issuing new vehicle registrations for city residents. Motorists living in areas of the county outside Memphis never have been required to undergo inspection.
Mashburn said his office re-
ceived a waiver from the Tennessee Department of Revenue allowing the change.
“As far as we’re concerned, any vehicle in Shelby County, come July 1, will be renewed without inspections at this time,” he said Thursday.
Motorists whose registrations expire in June or earlier won’t be required to have their cars and trucks inspected if they wait until next week to get renewals.
“I can’t penalize them. They have nowhere to go,” Mashburn said.
The loss of inspections, however, will not result in lower registration fees in Memphis, which total $117 for first-time applicants and $106 for renewals. The inspections were paid for from the city’s general fund, not from any part of the registration fees, city and county officials say.
The closings result from a City Council decision in 2012 to cut off funding at the end of this fiscal year for the $2.7 million-peryear inspection program, which includes emissions-testing. Council members complained that although the entire county is in violation of federal air-pollution standards, the city and its residents have been bearing the entire burden of reducing vehicle emissions through the inspection program.
But the shutdown of the program, which is part of a federally approved plan to reduce pollution, could have serious economic consequences for the city and county alike. Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could order a cutoff of federal highway funds and require deep cuts in emissions from existing factories before any new industries locate in the county.
And because federal airquality funds were used in the construction of the city’s newest inspection station off Appling, Memphis could be required to repay the approximately $3.4 million grant if the facility remains closed.
Auto inspections in Memphis date back to the 1930s. Emissions-testing was added to the process in the 1980s to deal with air pollution.
The county currently is considered out of compliance with federal standards for ozone pollution. The inspection program, which screened the approximately 420,000 vehicles registed in Memphis, has been credited with eliminating some 350 tons of ozone-causing pollution annually.
Although city officials have suggested that the county take over the inspections, Shelby officials declined, citing budgetary and jurisdictional constraints. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, which administers inspections in several counties in Middle Tennessee, also gave notice that it won’t assume control of the program, either.
Officials with both the city and county said they’re continuing to discuss options for avoiding federal sanctions.
Memphis chief administrative officer George Little said city officials hope to work out some arrangement for a countywide solution to the emissions issue.
The threat of sanctions, which would apply to the county and all its municipalities, “should give us all pause to reflect,” Little said.