Thomas Platt of Chattanooga says he missed his mother’s wedding in north Louisiana because his 2006 Chevy Colorado flunked the state of Tennessee’s environmental emissions test.
State officials say the catalytic converter on Platt’s Colorado is a lemon, and the truck must be sidelined until it’s fixed. Platt says the repairs will cost him $800, and he can’t get his yearly tags renewed until repairs are made.
Trucks and other vehicles are said to emit fewer toxins into the atmosphere because of the catalytic converters. But just because the catalytic converter is broken doesn’t mean the truck can’t get from Point A to Point B.
“The truck still drives perfect,” Platt said.
Regardless, Platt is confined to Chattanooga, yet he’s an outlaw of sorts who drives to and from his landscaping job with expired tags.
Platt could have made the 530-mile hike across Alabama and Mississippi to Ruston, Louisiana, regardless of what state officials decreed; he didn’t want to risk getting pulled over on that long of a trip.
A few minor tweaks of fate and none of this would have presented complications for Platt in the first place.
Platt said, for instance, if he lived only 10 minutes away in one direction, outside Chattanooga, the state would not have mandated that test. Same thing if he lived 10 minutes away in the other direction, across the Georgia state line.
Contractors with Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation do yearly emissions tests in six of Tennessee’s most heavily populated counties, including Hamilton, Sumner, and Williamson. They charge a $9 fee. Metro contractors in Davidson County, where Nashville is, do their own tests.
Rural areas and counties with fewer people don’t require the test.
“I understand the concept of being environmentally friendly, and all that good jazz, but I don’t see the point in a large city doing emissions testing and then every smaller town around the city not doing it,” Platt said.
According to TNvip.org, manufacturers installed catalytic converters in vehicles in the mid-1970s. All light-duty vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States had them by 1988.
According to the state’s website, emissions from an individual car are generally low, but they cause harm when combined with fumes from millions of other vehicles in a city or other area with many people.
As Tennessee Watchdog reported in 2014, people spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to repair their vehicles when they flunk this test due to a “check engine” light — even if the cause is only electrical.
At the time, a spokesman for the Nashville Metro Health Department said he and his colleagues can’t separate what’s related to emissions and what’s not.
Also in 2014, U.S. Rep. Steven Cohen of Memphis, a liberal Democrat, blasted these tests as ineffective and said they’ve taken a hefty serving of his own finances.
“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,” Cohen said three years ago.
He went on to describe the procedure as “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.”
Gasoline and diesel vehicles with model year 1975 and newer and a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating of 10,500 pounds or fewer must pass the emissions test.
Platt talked about this problem with Tennessee Watchdog by phone last week.
“Right now, I’m sitting in a restaurant parking lot in the middle of Chattanooga and I’m looking at all the license plates around me. There are license plates from three or four surrounding counties that don’t do emissions testing and these people probably drive to Chattanooga five days a week,” Platt said.
“I know people from those areas who come to Chattanooga and spend as much time here as I do. You can live five seconds outside Chattanooga and not deal with what I’m dealing with and be able to drive perfectly legal.”
Contact Christopher Butler at email@example.com
Follow Chris Butler on his professional Facebook page Chris Butler Writer/Journalist
Tennessee Watchdog is a nonprofit and nonpartisan investigative journalism website that relies on contributions from loyal readers like you.
Our investigative work has already impacted how local, state and federal officials spend taxpayer money. Our site brings to light things about government that most mainstream media outlets would otherwise never report on their own initiative.
We can’t keep going without you.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to donate.