Bipartisan fight against MTBE in California |

Bipartisan fight against MTBE in California

Andy Bourelle

Support for a ban of the controversial gasoline additive MTBE continues to grow in California.

Two state senators introduced bills last week calling for the ban of MTBE in California.

Earlier this month, Thomas “Rico” Oller, R-San Andreas, introduced a bill to the state Assembly calling for the ban. State Sens. Don Perata, D-Alameda, and Dick Mountjoy, R-Arcadia, each introduced bills in the Senate last week.

“We can no longer afford to put poisons into our drinking water,” Perata said. “The risk is simply too great.”

Mountjoy introduced legislation in 1997 calling for a ban of MTBE, and a revised version of the bill was passed, which called for more studies. A University of California, Davis, report was completed last year, and now there will be hearings on the study in February. By early March, Gov. Gray Davis is required to make a decision as to whether MTBE poses a significant risk to California’s water or to human health and to take appropriate action.

“I am asking the Legislature to do what it was unwilling to do two years ago when I introduced similar legislation – ban MTBE and ban it now,” Mountjoy said. “Cities, counties, and water districts across California are passing resolutions calling on the governor to ban MTBE.”

Officials from South Lake Tahoe’s largest water supplier are pleased with the growing support.

“That’s why these bills are so important. If the governor doesn’t take any action, or take the appropriate action, the Legislature has these bills going,” said Dawn Forsythe, information officer for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which supplies about 30,000 South Shore residents with water.

Sen. Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, has indicated his intention to introduce similar legislation as well as Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto.

Support for eliminating MTBE isn’t only present on a statewide level. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has asked Congress to drop California from a federal order requiring the use of gasoline additives such as MTBE, saying the chemicals are ”unnecessary” and pollute the state’s drinking water.

Feinstein, D-Calif., proposed legislation that would let California oil refiners make a gasoline without MTBE, as long as they meet the state’s strict air quality emission standards.

”It makes little sense to continue using a chemical additive that is unnecessary, is polluting the general drinking water supply in California and may well have other health implications,” she said.

Feinstein’s bill is a companion to an identical bill introduced earlier this month in the House by Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-San Diego.

And the movement isn’t just in California.

Legislators in New York and Connecticut have introduced bills to get rid of the fuel additive in their states. Cities in Texas are calling for the state’s natural resource commission to ban the additive, too.

“This is happening all over the country and people are just not going to take it any more,” Forsythe said. “I urge the people to write Gray Davis right now and ask him to get rid of MTBE.”

Since September 1997, STPUD closed more than one-third of its wells because of MTBE. STPUD required water-usage restrictions for part of the 1998 summer, and, to date, MTBE-related costs for the district are about $1.5 million.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a fuel additive used extensively in California to reduce air pollution. However, it is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent and has contaminated more than 10,000 groundwater sites in California.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Back to Front Page

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.