Davis decision on MTBE delayed | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Davis decision on MTBE delayed

It looks like the decision about the fate of MTBE in California will be made later than what had originally been expected.

The California Environmental Protection Agency has extended the timeline for Gov. Gray Davis to make a decision about the future of MTBE in the state.

Instead of a decision due by early next month, Davis now has several weeks.

Additional written testimony and evidence will be accepted by the state until March 17, because of the “staggering amount of oral and documentary evidence, as well as a large number of individuals and industry representatives who testified in three days of hearings,” according to the agency.

“Keeping the record open until March 17, 1999, will enable interested parties that were limited by time constraints to submit new and updated documentation in response to information learned at the hearings,” Winston Hickox, secretary of California EPA, stated in a new release.

Senate Bill 521 – authored by California Sen. Dick Mountjoy, R-Arcadia – was passed by the state Legislature last year, calling for an in-depth study on MTBE, a public hearing process and a quick decision by the governor. The University of California, Davis, completed the study in November 1998, and the last of the public hearings concluded Feb. 24.

The president and vice president of the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s board of directors testified Feb. 23 at the Northern California hearing.

“I think there was just an overwhelming amount of support for banning MTBE,” said Chris Strohm, vice president of the board.

Others agree.

“The only people arguing in favor of MTBE were the people who had a vested interest in it,” Mountjoy said. “On the other hand, there were water people concerned about their water, people concerned about their health. I think overwhelmingly there were people who wanted to get rid of MTBE.”

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a fuel oxygenate widely used in California, because many officials believe it helps clean up the state’s air pollution. However, the additive has contaminated more than 10,000 groundwater sites in California, including several on Lake Tahoe’s south shore. The South Tahoe Public Utility District has lost the use of more than one-third of its drinking water wells because of MTBE.

Strohm said if the additive is not outright banned in the state, that he hopes it will be phased out geographically. That means MTBE would first be banned from the areas having the most problems with the additive – such as South Lake Tahoe and Santa Monica.

Members of the Davis administration were very attentive to the information provided, he said.

“Let’s see what they do. There was an awful lot of information there,” Strohm said. “Let’s let them mull it over and do the right thing.”

Jim Spagnole, director of communications for California Environmental Protection Agency, said the state already has accumulated more than 3,000 pages of written documents, 800 to 1,200 pages of transcripts from the hearings and 350 e-mails.

“As soon after March 17 as possible, we will provide a package to the governor. Then he has 10 days to make a decision,” Spagnole said. “In a perfect world, that would be March 27, but we may have to slide a few days beyond that.”

Mountjoy said he was not happy with the extension, which goes against what his bill called for. However, he agreed not to criticize it.

“I would rather have a good solid decision. I would rather have it come down to eliminating MTBE rather than have them rush to judgment and say it’s OK,” Mountjoy said.

However, he added: “They make it sound like they’ve got just about forever (to make a decision). They’re not going to get away with that.”

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.

Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User