Feinstein introduces another anti-MTBE bill | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Feinstein introduces another anti-MTBE bill

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced another bill into Congress this week as part of an ongoing effort to fight California’s problems with the controversial fuel additive MTBE.

It’s the fifth bill she’s sent to the Senate regarding MTBE and similar to others she’s introduced because it has to do with eliminating a federal requirement that has helped lead to MTBE’s widespread use.

It’s good news for Lake Tahoe water purveyors, whom are pleased the Democratic senator has stuck with the fight.

“We will support any legislation that gets MTBE out of the gasoline supply of this state – and particularly the Tahoe Basin,” said Dennis Cocking, information officer for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has lost the use of more than a third of its wells because of MTBE contamination. “Whatever it takes. Our position has always been and continues to be as long as MTBE is in our gas, our water resources are at risk.”

Feinstein and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., introduced S1866 Tuesday. It is supposed to allow the governor of a state to waive the 2-percent oxygenate content requirement for reformulated or clean-burning gasoline. 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. Now, most of California’s gas has 10 to 15 percent MTBE.

The problem is that MTBE has increasingly contaminated groundwater. As many as 14,000 sites have been contaminated in California.

In July of this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Oxygenates in Gasoline recommended that the 2-percent requirement be “removed in order to provide flexibility to blend adequate fuel supplies in a cost-effective manner while quickly reducing usage of MTBE and maintaining air quality benefits.”

The panel also recommended “Congress act quickly to clarify federal federal and state authority to regulate and/or eliminate the use of gasoline additives that pose a threat to drinking water supplies.”

Feinstein’s new bill would do that, giving state authorities the ability to waive the requirement and not be violating federal laws.

“This bill, while not totally repealing the 2-percent oxygenate requirement, moves us in that direction,” Feinstein said. “It (allows) states that choose to meet the clean air requirements without oxygenates to do so. It allows states that choose an oxygenate, such as ethanol, to do so. Areas required to use reformulated gasoline for cleaner air will still be required to use it. The gasoline will have a different but clean formulation. Areas will continue to have to meet clean air standards.

“On April 12, 1999, Gov. (Gray) Davis asked U.S. EPA for a waiver of the 2-percent oxygenate requirement,” she added. “I too wrote U.S. EPA – on May 18, 1999; Dec. 3, 1998; Sept. 29, 1998; Sept. 14, 1998; Nov. 3, 1997; Sept. 24, 1997; April 22, 1997; and April 11, 1997. I have met with EPA officials several times and have talked directly to Administrator Carol Browner. To date, EPA has not granted California a waiver of the 2-percent.

“Again, today, I call on EPA to act. In the meantime, I will continue to urge Congress to act.”

Previous MTBE-related legislation introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein:

n S266 would allow California to apply its own air quality standards, which are more strict than federal standards but do not mandate the use of oxygenates.

n S267 directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make it a priority to clean up underground gasoline storage tanks that are leaking into drinking water.

n S268 requires stricter emission controls on personal watercraft engines be fully implemented by 2001, rather than 2006 as originally proposed by EPA.

n S645 would authorize EPA to waive the 2-percent federal oxygenate requirement in any state if gasoline with less than 2 percent or with no oxygenates meets clean air standards.

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