Haslam Disavows State Role in Local Car Inspection

Governor’s decision draws fire from Council members.

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Contradicting earlier statements by local Memphis and Shelby County officials that the state of Tennessee would assume the burden of an automobile inspection program, at least for Memphis, Governor Bill Haslam has apparently decided that the state will neither take on such responsibility for Memphis or Shelby County nor contribute to the funding for it.

Haslam’s decision was communicated to members of the Memphis City Council Thursday by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, and Council reaction has been furious.

Council budget chairman Jim Strickland, who had voted with the Council majority in February to end such testing by the city as of July 1 for fiscal reasons, wondered why Haslam would reject involvement with an inspection program in Memphis and Shelby County when, as he understood it, the state takes respnswibility for auotomible testing in several of the state's local jurisdictions.

Srickland later provided information indicating that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation hires a contractor to run the auto emissions inspection program for Hamilton, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson County, while Nashville/Davidson County metro government does the contradcting for its area.

Strickland said he had participated in talks with state officials back in March, at which comnitments had been made by the state to involve itself with local automobile testing.. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell publicly announced as much, though he said the state commitment had been limited to Memphis. He said at the time he would be talking with TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau to work out a procedure for local testing by the state.

“I guess Haslam just decided to overrule the other state officials, but the commitment had been made,” Strickland averred.

Councilman Lee Harris, sponsor of an ordinance that would absolve Memphis residents of testing requirements until some framework can be worked out for them, was also critical of the governor.

“He doesn’t appear to be a real firm administrator, a visionary. He just wants to make everybody happy,” said Harris. “It’s the same thing as wth Obamacare that he dithered on before deciding not to decide. He just dithers. He’s neither solving a problem nor showing leadership. There was no cost factor. The only factor was, he was afraid of suburban legislators who don’t want a testing program in the county.”

Harris said the city is definitely out of the business of funding inspections and that either the County Commission or state government should take responsibility for them. The city has been spending $2.7 annually on funding automobile inspection. County government has never required such testing for residents outside the city limits of Memphis, though the Environmental Protection Agency has declared both Memphis and Shelby County at large to have unsafe emission levels.

The ordinance which Harris hopes to see pass before July 1 would exempt Memphis residents from the existing requirement that cars older than four years be inspected until some, presumably fee-based, system is instituted by county or state government.

Even that doesn’t satisfy Councilman Shea Flinn, who contends that such an exemption pre-supposes that there is a city obligation. Flinn said It is the state’s responsibility to conform to the EPA emissions mandate, not that of local government, and he included Luttrell in with Haslam on the charge of bowing to suburban pressures against testing in the outer county.

Wharton told the Council that he and Luttrell would continue to seek a solution from state sources and that meanwhile the EPA has apparently extended an 18-month window for “good faith” efforts toward rectifying the situation.

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