Coalition closer to outlawing MTBE |

Coalition closer to outlawing MTBE

A ban on selling MTBE in the El Dorado County portion of Lake Tahoe is one step closer to becoming reality.

A three-member coalition of South Shore governments Wednesday endorsed plans by the county to adopt an ordinance banning MTBE.

Last year, the county and the city of South Lake Tahoe joined into a cooperative agreement with the area’s primary water supplier, the South Tahoe Public Utility District, to find a way to get MTBE-laden gasoline out of the California portion of South Shore. After the group formed, however, California’s governor took statewide action regarding MTBE, and many local service stations voluntarily started serving MTBE-free fuel. The group last summer decided to take a wait-and-see approach, giving suppliers time to voluntarily serve MTBE-free gas.

Since there are about four stations that still serve MTBE-laden gas, however, Dave Solaro, El Dorado County supervisor and a representative on the preservation authority, indicated last month that enough time had passed, and he had the county staffers develop an ordinance that would give the them authority to shut down stations still serving gas containing the controversial fuel additive.

“The majority of our service stations are environmentally conscientious and have since done the right thing,” Solaro said at a meeting of the coalition Wednesday. “It’s just the few that are causing this ordinance to go forward.”

With the endorsement, Solaro now plans to take the proposed ordinance to the county board of supervisors on March 21. It will require two readings.

Gas station operators selling MTBE after the ordinance goes into effect could face $1,000-a-day fines, jail time or the immediate closure of their businesses.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline oxygenate comprising significant portions of California gasoline. It has increasingly ruined drinking water supplies statewide.

MTBE, a suspected human carcinogen, has created problems because it moves fast in the ground, breaks down slowly, is difficult to clean up and can render water undrinkable at low levels of contamination.

STPUD has closed more than a third of its 30-plus wells because of contamination, which has created mandatory water-usage restrictions the past two summers.

About this time last year, California Gov. Gray Davis ordered MTBE phased out by the end of 2002. However, he also ordered the state to work with oil companies to get MTBE-free fuel to Tahoe sooner.

Since April of last year, Tahoe stations increasingly have been serving MTBE-free gas.

The last time the state of California checked, stations still serving MTBE-laden gas included the Roadrunner in Meyers, Stop N’ Save and Tahoe Tom’s in South Lake Tahoe and the Swiss Mart on Emerald Bay Road.

“Some people just need to be pushed, and I’m going to push them,” Solaro said.

No representatives from oil companies or Tahoe gas stations attended the meeting.

El Dorado County’s proposed ordinance also changes the county’s rules regarding underground fuel storage tanks. Because the new rules will be more strict than state standards, the ordinance will need approval from the California Water Quality Control Board.

County officials couldn’t estimate how long that would take. However, county attorneys are investigating whether the MTBE-ban portion of the proposal could go into effect without state approval.

The coalition of governments Wednesday also agreed to send a letter to the California Air Resources Board, urging the state agency to do more frequent testing of Tahoe stations to ensure they are MTBE-free. And the water authority wants the state air board to better enforce a rule that went into effect last year which requires gas stations serving MTBE-laden fuel to label their pumps as such. Some South Shore stations have violated the rule.

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