Haslam: No State Aid in Memphis Vehicle Emissions Squabble

Gov. Bill Haslam has decided that state government will not take over the Memphis/Shelby County vehicle inspection program or provide any money to help run it, according to the Commercial Appeal. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton notified City Council members of the governor’s decision in a memo.
That message, Wharton wrote in the memo, came from Mark Cate, Haslam’s gubernatorial chief of staff, in a conference call that also included Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Robert Martineau and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell.
Memphis has voted to stop funding vehicle emissions and inspections programs in a push to force countywide if not region-wide testing to meet air quality standards mandated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Ever since emissions testing began some 30 years ago, only Memphis motorists have been required to undergo the process — even though the entire county is now classified by the EPA as violating federal standards for ozone pollution.
…The city has been spending some $2.7 million a year on testing, and that funding ends on July 1. Wharton said he and Luttrell will work on a solution, and it appears they may have an 18-month window to do show a “good-faith effort” toward compliance.
…In Wharton’s memo, he spells out the loss of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to the city, the county and to suburban municipalities as well.
Council member Lee Harris said Thursday the decision is part of a political “soap opera” in which the governor was caught in the crosscurrents between Memphis, which has historically required auto inspections, and state legislators representing parts of Shelby County outside of Memphis, which have not required auto inspections.
“The reason the governor reached that decision is clearly political,” said Harris, who led the efforts to drop auto inspections in the city on grounds that city residents are having to carry the entire burden of meeting EPA pollution standards even though the suburbs contribute to the same pollution.
“Instead of the governor showing some leadership, he said, ‘Look, I’m just going to punt the ball.’ It’s really a soap opera now. It’s hard to believe that somebody elected to office would just cave. It’s really discouraging,” Harris said

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