MTBE bills await Wilson signature |

MTBE bills await Wilson signature

Andy Bourelle

Two bills currently sit on California Gov. Pete Wilson’s desk which can impact South Lake Tahoe – because they deal with MTBE.

Last week, Assembly Bill 1642, which allows alternatives to the gasoline additive to be used in California, cleared the Assembly and the Senate. On Monday – the last day of legislation – Senate Bill 2198 was passed. It could provide $5 million in 1999 to help water suppliers pay for the costs of investigating MTBE contamination and for acquiring alternative drinking water supplies.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to sign, veto or allow the bills to become law without his signature.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has 10 of its 34 drinking water wells shut down because of the threat of MTBE, was happy the bills were passed.

“At this point, we’re grateful for any assistance we can get,” said STPUD Information Officer Dawn Forsythe.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive that has contaminated groundwater at more than 10,000 sites throughout California.

AB 1642 will allow reformulated gasoline to be blended without regard to existing oxygen content standards unless the California Air Resources Board demonstrates an adverse impact to the emission that can be attributed to the increased oxygen content. The existing oxygen content standard, which requires reformulated gasoline to contain no higher than 2.7 percent oxygen by weight, is favorable to the use of MTBE, according to the office of Assemblywoman Debra Bowen, D-Torrance/Marina del Rey, who is chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.

Despite evidence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggesting that increasing the oxygen content beyond 2.7 percent does not result in increased emissions, ethanol – the principal alternative to MTBE used in numerous states including Oregon, Nevada and Arizona – is prohibited in California because its oxygen content of 3.5 percent exceeds the limit.

“The costs of the MTBE monopoly to you and me have included higher prices at the pump and contaminated water supplies across the state,” Bowen said.

SB 2198 was co-authored by Sens. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, and Tim Leslie, R-Roseville.

“The monies, although they won’t get the MTBE out of the gas, hopefully, they can help agencies like STPUD get the MTBE out of the water,” said Dave Butler, Leslie’s district representative.

“The bill is right on point with the problems seen in the Tahoe Basin,” said Kip Lipper, chief of staff for Sher. “We feel it’s one of the most important bills that got through this year.”

From 1999 to 2002, up to $5 million a year will be available from a drinking water treatment and research fund.

STPUD has spent $800,000 in the last 18 months for MTBE-related problems and expects to spend another $250,000 this fall to destroy two contaminated wells and build a new one.

STPUD has funding requests pending for $170,000 and will apply soon for another $250,000.

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