California Congress requests waiver on MTBE |

California Congress requests waiver on MTBE

Andy Bourelle

Forty-one members of the California Congressional delegation Monday sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requesting a waiver to a federal rule that many believe is making it more difficult for oil companies to make MTBE-free gas.

The federal Clean Air Act requires cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline be sold in areas with bad violations of ozone standards, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. The Act prescribes a formula for reformulated gasoline, including the requirement that it have at least 2 percent oxygen.

In response to the requirement, refiners have primarily used the oxygenate MTBE for reformulated gasoline in California.

Now, however, MTBE is being phased out of use in California because it has contaminated as many as 14,000 sites statewide.

Oil company officials have said they could beat the governor’s Dec. 31, 2002 deadline of getting MTBE out of California’s gasoline by more than two years if EPA granted the waiver.

“Our goal is simple and direct: to get MTBE out of our drinking water,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “I have introduced several bills in the Senate to help achieve this aim in addition to repeatedly urging EPA to grant this waiver. It is my hope that the agency will move quickly to approve our request.”

The letter, signed by 41 of California’s 52 senators and house representatives, stated the delegation would continue to push for the waiver: “Given the economic and environmental urgency of this issue to our home state, we are strongly supportive of the swiftest favorable resolution possible. However, in the absence of a clear resolution of this matter, we will continue to pursue all avenues.”

More than six months ago, an EPA-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel recommended to EPA that the oxygenate requirements be lifted.

Lake Tahoe and California Air Resources Board officials have long supported the waiver.

“It never ceases to amaze me how slowly EPA reacts,” said Dennis Cocking, information officer for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has lost more than a third of its wells because of MTBE. “I don’t know if they don’t see the importance of this or they just have so much to do, so much going on, that they can’t get to it.”

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