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Congressman wants EPA investigated

The U.S. Department of Justice needs to begin an immediate investigation of the Environmental Protection Agency, says a New Jersey congressman who claims the EPA has done “virtually nothing” about the controversial fuel additive MTBE.

Bob Franks, R-N.J., sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno last week, urging “an immediate investigation into the Environmental Protection Agency and oil industries’ knowledge of water-supply contamination from methyl tertiary butyl ether and the blatant disregard of its potential health effects.”

“The report (on the CBS television show ’60 Minutes’) illustrates that EPA has been aware of drinking water contamination caused by MTBE since the late 1980s and has done virtually nothing to examine its consequences on human health,” Franks wrote in the letter to Reno. “As a result, MTBE, a suspected human carcinogen, has polluted water supplies across the country.”



Based on recommendations from an EPA-created Blue Ribbon Panel that looked into issues relating to MTBE, the federal agency’s top official last July announced the United States “must begin to significantly reduce the use of MTBE in gasoline as quickly as possible without sacrificing the gains we’ve made in achieving cleaner air.”

EPA officials have urged Congress to remove a part of the Clean Air Act that requires 2 percent oxygenates in reformulated gas, an action many believe would make it easier for the oil industry to stop using MTBE. Since that time, however, EPA has developed some critics.



“To my knowledge, they have proposed nothing. The silence has been deafening,” said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, a Lake Tahoe water supplier that has lost the use of more than a third of its wells because of MTBE. “It’s been almost eight months since the Blue Ribbon Panel made its findings. They haven’t said a word since then.”

Dave Schmidt, an EPA spokesman from the agency’s San Francisco office, said EPA has been active in the MTBE issue. A requirement for water agencies to test for MTBE has been phased in over the last few years, the agency is working with states to develop operations and maintenance manuals for underground storage tanks, and EPA has conducted workshops to help improve cleanup of MTBE-contaminated sites.


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