MTBE bill awaits Wilson’s approval
SACRAMENTO (AP) – A plan for a $500,000 study of a controversial fuel additive – amended to include its impact on Lake Tahoe – has won final legislative approval in the California Senate.
The bill by Sen. Dick Mountjoy, R-Arcadia, was sent Friday to Gov. Pete Wilson’s desk as the Senate accepted Assembly amendments that, among other things, included the Tahoe amendment sought by Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante.
Mountjoy backed Bustamante’s addition to see whether the additive – methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE – has affected the Tahoe environment or the health of its residents.
Bustamante, D-Fresno, asked for the changes after a University of Nevada-Reno study that showed significant gasoline contamination of Lake Tahoe during the Fourth of July weekend.
”You’re only beginning to hear about this,” Mountjoy said during brief Senate floor comments on the bill, adding that the yearlong study is needed so lawmakers can make proper decisions on MTBE in the future.
The University of California study will examine risks and benefits to human health posed by MTBE. The study also will compare it to the other three oxygenated additives available in California – ethanol, ETBE and TAME.
Mountjoy’s bill also empowers California’s governor to decide whether MTBE should be phased out, if the study concludes that the additive poses a threat to public health and the state’s drinking water supply.
During Assembly discussion Thursday, Assemblyman Don Perata, D-Alameda, said there have been ”ominous sightings” of MTBE in his district, in the Calistoga area, at Tahoe and elsewhere.
Perata also said the study is critical because ”this well could be the DDT of the ’90s.”
”If you fell into a lake of ethanol, you’d wake up in the morning with a hangover. But if you fell into a lake of MTBE you wouldn’t wake up at all,” he added.
Perata said the measure should be approved ”even though it’s only a shadow of what it was. But it’s a beginning.”
Oil industry lobbyists were successful in killing a provision that removed barriers to the use of ethanol as an alternative to MTBE in California.
Ethanol producers had protested for years that the California Air Resources Board had undermined a 1991 law authorizing the use of ethanol as a fuel additive in California.
Two weeks ago, ethanol backers added a provision to the Mountjoy bill that would set aside the ARB rule and again allow the use of ethanol.
Nancy Leneis, a senior aide to Mountjoy, said the decision by the Appropriations Committee to strip the ethanol provision from the bill was a display of oil industry clout.
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