Agencies continue fight against fuel additive |

Agencies continue fight against fuel additive

Andy Bourelle

A three-letter acronym may be the best way to get rid of one with four letters, officials believe.

The city of South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County and the South Tahoe Public Utility District are proceeding with the formation of a Joint Powers Agreement to eliminate the controversial fuel additive MTBE from South Shore.

“They are going to move forward with the JPA. The prospective boards are to support the elimination of MTBE from South Tahoe by July 1,” Dawn Forsythe, information officer for STPUD, said Friday after a joint meeting of the three agencies.

Details still need to be worked out, but the boards plan to take action in May. South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County likely will address the issue at their May 18 meetings; STPUD will likely consider the action on May 20.

Officials hope to hold a public workshop sometime before then.

The discussion Friday came one day after the first MTBE-free gasoline was delivered to the California side of the basin by the Tosco Corporation. Chevron plans to have MTBE-free gas to Lake Tahoe by July.

Those actions by the oil companies were facilitated by a decision in March by California Gov. Gray Davis to complete a phaseout of MTBE in the state by Dec. 31, 2002. Davis also directed the state government to work with the petroleum industry “to supply MTBE-free California-compliant gasoline year around to the Lake Tahoe region at the earliest possible date.”

Officials from the local governments – many of whom have been leaders in the fight to get rid of the additive from the state – are pleased with the incoming MTBE-free gasoline. However, they feel it may not be quick enough.

“We appreciate what Tosco and Chevron are doing, but we haven’t heard from any other major supplier,” Forsythe said. “That may be only five out of 18 gas stations in the South Tahoe PUD service area (with MTBE-free gas).”

South Shore’s MTBE problems have made newspaper headlines across the country. In the last 18 months, more than one-third of the district’s wells have been closed because of MTBE, eliminating 20 percent of the utility’s capacity. Mandatory water-usage restrictions were in place for much of last summer and are scheduled to begin again in June.

“We’re very happy to have the city, the county and the district working absolutely arm in arm to protect our water. It’s very heartening,” Forsythe said. “A lot of times when you’ve got various agencies working together you get turf battles. Disagreements can occur. There is absolutely none of that in these discussions.”

OK, so the big question – how are they going to enforce an elimination of MTBE?

That’s one of the details they are still working out.

“There was a wide range of feelings for the different methods of enforcement,” Forsythe said. “That will be a part of the public workshop.”

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