Legislative showdown on fuel additive | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Legislative showdown on fuel additive

Patrick McCartney

Critics of a fuel additive credited with cleaning California’s air will face another key legislative hearing today, when an Assembly environmental committee reviews two bills that seek to regulate the additive.

Sponsored by two state senators who are usually on opposite sides of most issues, the bills would subject the fuel additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether or MTBE, to a health study, and force the oil industry to pay when the additive contaminates drinking water supplies.

A debate over the additive has ensued since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required the use of oxygen-rich additives during the winter in areas with high carbon monoxide. Some researchers believe the additive has been responsible for an increase in respiratory problems, and poses a threat to water supplies.

But the debate features a contest between unusual alliances. The sponsors of the two bills to be considered today – Tom Hayden, a Democrat, and Richard Mountjoy, a Republican – seldom agree on other issues.

And opposition to the proposed laws come from both the oil industry and clean-air advocates.

During today’s hearing, Mountjoy will attempt to restore provisions to his bill that were stripped by the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said he has received support from more than 100,000 Californians in his quest to submit the additive to a University of California health study.

“Californians from across our state oppose the use of MTBE and want it out of their gas,” Mountjoy said.

Nancy Leneis, a Mountjoy senior aide, said the senator will also try to add two new provisions. One calls for a study of the state’s asthma rate before and after the additive was introduced last year statewide, and the other would require the identification of all MTBE combustion byproducts.

Because of the stakes involved, the hearing will be anything but routine, Leneis predicted. Each committee hearing has turned out to be a pitched battle between supporters and critics of the fuel additive.

At a glance:

What: Senate Bill 521 calls for a two-year study of the gasoline additive MTBE, and would require the state health director to take preventive measures if the organic compound is found to pose a threat to public health. Sponsored by Sen. Richard Mountjoy, R-Arcadia.

What: Senate Bill 1189 would require the state health director to set standards for exposure to MTBE in water supplies. Further calls for notification of gasoline leaks to local water suppliers, and makes oil industry liable for cleaning up gasoline leaks.

Status: Both bills have passed the state senate, with amendments added. Each will go next to the Assembly Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials Committee.

When: 1:30 Wednesday.

Where: State Capitol in Sacramento, Room 444.


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