Davidson County drivers whose vehicles were manufactured in the past two years could soon receive a pass from annual auto-emissions testing.
A bill sponsored by Metro Council members Rip Ryman and Jim Forkum would amend the Metro Code to exempt vehicles that are two years old or newer from testing requirements. As the code is written, only vehicles manufactured prior to 1975 and new vehicles registered for the first time are excused from testing.
The introduction of the Metro ordinance comes as state Republican lawmakers Rep. Glen Casada and Sen. Jack Johnson have filed a bill in the General Assembly with virtually the same intent. Their bill, which would apply to all Tennessee counties that require auto-emissions testing, would exempt vehicles manufactured during the current calendar year, as well as those built in the two previous years.
Ryman, who represents parts of Goodlettsville, said his proposal is modeled on a similar initiative in Memphis. Under that plan, registered drivers who qualify for the exemption would still have to pay a $3 fee, which would be directed to Metro’s general fund and used for air-quality purposes.
“The way the federal government has put all these restrictions on the manufacturing of new cars, I would say there’s probably a very small percentage of new cars that fail emissions tests,” Ryman said.
“The burden upon citizens to drive to the testing centers and wait in line with their motors running likely outweighs the clean-air benefits associated with the mandatory testing,” the bill reads.
The legislation was scheduled for the second of three council votes Tuesday night, but the vote was deferred to allow for more study.
According to council attorney Jon Cooper, the legislation needs to establish precisely which model years could be eligible for the exemption. Some companies, he pointed out, have already unveiled their 2012 models. Thus, would the bill apply to only 2011 and 2012 models or vehicles built in 2010 as well?
“The way it reads now, it could either be three model years or two model years, depending on where you are in the calendar year,” Cooper said.
The Metro Health Department, which contracts with SysTech International to carry out emissions testing services, oversaw 577,686 tests last year. Of those, 56,452 were vehicles from the three most recent model years, according to the legislation. Two percent of these automobiles failed the emissions test. Nashville drivers pay $9 per test.
Fred Huggins, the health department’s director of vehicle emissions, acknowledged Ryman’s bill “would make it a little more difficult” for the department, but he said officials could make the proposal work.
“We’re always looking for ways to try to make it better for the customer,” Huggins said. “This may make it better for some of the new car owners.”
But Huggins pointed out the reason Davidson County’s emissions test exists is to improve the area’s air-quality. In the past, he said Middle Tennessee has failed to meet health-based ozone standards administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Anything that we do to the program that takes vehicles out of the fleet causes emissions to go up slightly,” he said. “So, since we’re relying on this for attainment with EPA’s health-based standards, then we’re going to have to find some corresponding emission decreases to at least equal out the increases caused by taking some vehicles out of the fleet.”