By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — Here’s another way the federal Environmental Protection Agency may cost Tennessee residents money — and a lot of it.
Do you drive an automobile that has the “Check Engine” light on?
How many of you don’t do anything about it because your mechanic says it’s a minor electrical glitch, your car otherwise runs smoothly and you can’t afford to repair it anyway?
Well, if you live in certain large cities in the state, especially Nashville, you better prepare to pony up hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars because city officials won’t pass your car on any vehicle inspection.
Electrical malfunction or not, a “Check Engine” light means your car is polluting the environment, said Sanmi Areola, spokesman for the Nashville Metro Health Department.
“If the ‘Check Engine’ light comes on in the vehicle, then how do you know that the vehicle doesn’t have an emissions problem?” Areola asked.
“If you don’t fix the problem, it’s tough for us to separate what is related to emissions and what’s not. We have a responsibility to protect air quality. The EPA guidelines on this are very well established.”
But U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, where a similar program was recently, and perhaps temporarily shut down, has some complaints.
Citing a recent Memphis Commercial Appeal article, Cohen said in a press release that the shutdown of Memphis’ vehicle inspection program won’t add enough air pollution to violate federal smog rules.
“I have heard from constituents about — and experienced for myself — the frustration of being hit with hundreds of dollars in car repair bills that will have limited, if any, emissions reductions benefits,” Cohen wrote.
“Even though my car registered zero emissions, I was unable to pass the inspection because my ‘Check Engine’ light was on — and had to pay hundreds in repairs just to fix that so that I could pass the inspection.
“While I am lucky to have been able to afford the repairs, Memphians shouldn’t have to shoulder an additional burden because of a faulty testing system that discriminates against those who often don’t have the means to afford repairs that have little or no effect on their vehicle’s emissions.”
Areola said he could not comment on Memphis’ program.
Many Memphis officials, including those in Mayor AC Wharton’s office and the entire City Council, did not return several requests for comment last from Tennessee Watchdog.
The Vehicle Inspection Program operates in Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, said Shannon Ashford, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
“The program was developed in these counties in response to more restrictive federal regulations to control air pollution in counties that were not meeting the ozone air quality standards,” Ashford wrote in an e-mail to Tennessee Watchdog.
As a result, certain vehicles registered in those counties are required to pass a vehicle emission test, she added.
Gasoline and diesel vehicles with a model year of 1975 and newer and a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,500 pounds or less must pass the emission test before the vehicle’s registration can be renewed. Motorcycles are exempt, Ashford wrote.
TDEC contractors perform emissions in Williamson, Wilson, Rutherford, Sumner and Hamilton counties.
Metro contractors in Davidson County, where Nashville is located, conduct vehicle emissions tests, she said.
“Testing in these areas is conducted countywide — due to those counties being specifically named by the state Air Pollution Control Board as counties where testing must be done,” Ashford wrote.
Memphis officials, meanwhile, carried out vehicle emission testing until they told TDEC that they could no longer provide the $2.7 million needed to operate it, Ashford said.
In response, Shelby County, where Memphis is located, is seeking other sources of emissions reductions that the EPA will give them credit for in lieu of vehicle emissions testing, Ashford added.
“Once comments are reviewed and the plan is approved at the local level, it will be sent to the Air Pollution Control Board for approval. If approved by the Board, it will then go to the EPA for approval,” Ashford wrote.
Federal law does not require a vehicle inspection program in Knox County, where Knoxville is located, even though its health department operates its own air quality program, Ashford said.
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