Local utility district takes new approach to MTBE | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Local utility district takes new approach to MTBE

B.H. Bose

Fearing the state of California will not act soon enough, local utility district officials have decided to fight for a ban on the controversial gasoline additive MTBE. Instead of directly lobbying Gov. Pete Wilson, and other lawmakers, the staff and board members of the South Tahoe Public Utility District will launch a campaign supporting the ban of methyl tertiary butyl ether.

“We have met and discussed the issue with governmental officials, and word is the governor doesn’t think it’s a serious problem,” said Dawn Forsythe, public information officer with STPUD. “So now, we are forwarding copies (of the resolution) to the California Air Resources Board, the State Water Resources Board, and state elected officials.”

MTBE recently became a hot topic. A gasoline additive used to help gasoline burn more efficiently, it reduces the amount of carbon monoxide produced from automobiles. The compound has been linked to a variety of health ailments, such as respiratory problems, but most studies to determine the overall hazards are still ongoing.

In South Lake Tahoe, where the local utility district has been forced to shut down six drinking wells due to current and past leaks from nearby gasoline tanks, the MTBE topic is red hot.

Apparently on the front burner of this relatively new issue, officials with the local utility district are not getting much support from state and federal policy makers.

Currently, there is a bill in a Senate subcommittee (SB 2198) that will provide funding to public water systems and private well owners (through a $10 per barrel tax that will be assessed on California oil refineries) to investigate, clean up, and replace water supplies contaminated with gasoline or gasoline additives such as MTBE. However, with that locked up in legislation, the district will also look to the possibility of getting rid of the contaminant on a local level.

“We want to see if there is opposition to getting rid of MTBE in areas that are vulnerable,” Forsythe said. “The federal EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) contains state management plans to protect water from contaminates. We will look to see if we can use that for MTBE, since the plan focuses on pesticides.”

The resolution, which was approved to be sent out by the STPUD board of directors Thursday, basically notifies interested parties that “the board of directors hereby entreats Gov. Pete Wilson to take immediate action to prohibit the use of MTBE as an additive to gasoline.” Also on the STPUD mailing list are the customers. A “Help Make Tahoe MTBE Free” brochure will be mailed out with all bills.

“We just had a conference call with other suppliers Monday,” Forsythe added. “Whenever we have a new conference call, we have someone else (another utility district) coming in and saying, ‘Guess what?'”

The STPUD staff has also started a MTBE-free public campaign. Anyone wanting to know more about MTBE, or to schedule a presentation by STPUD staff, may call Forsythe at 544-6474, ext. 208.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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