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MTBE-free-for-all: Gas stations must comply to survive

Officials from the South Tahoe Public Utility District, city of South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County are urging the South Shore gas stations that have not yet committed to being MTBE-free by July 1 to get moving.

If they aren’t MTBE-free by fall, there could be consequences involved – including losing their permits to operate.

California Gov. Gray Davis in March ordered a three-year phaseout of MTBE, the controversial fuel additive that has contaminated more than one-third of STPUD’s wells. Davis also said state officials would work with the oil company to get MTBE out of the Tahoe area as soon as possible.



In May STPUD, the city and the county formed a cooperative agreement to determine what kind of action could be taken to facilitate the removal of the additive from Tahoe.

Officials earlier said a “local ban” may not be necessary because of the governor’s action, but they would continue to move forward until they were ensured local action wasn’t needed.




The agreement formed the Lake Tahoe Region Water Preservation Authority, and its board members – Mayor Judy Brown, El Dorado County Supervisor Dave Solaro and STPUD director Pembroke Gochnauer – by July 1 are to issue a report to their respective agencies with recommendations on how to proceed.

STPUD’s board will review the report at its Thursday meeting, and the city and county are scheduled to discuss it at their first meetings in July.

The California Energy Commission says 67 percent of the places able to provide gasoline on the California side of the basin have committed to being MTBE-free by July 1, according to the report. Solaro and Brown now are sending letters to those which haven’t, urging them to stop selling MTBE-laden gasoline.

If they haven’t done it by the committee’s next quarterly report, which should be about October, the committee may recommend El Dorado County not renew the permits to the stations.

Those currently include the Road Runner General Store, 7-Eleven on U.S. Highway 50, Tahoe Tom’s, the currently closed Swiss Mart Food and Gas and fueling stations belonging to AT&T, Pacific Bell, the California Department of Transportation and California State Parks.

Letters also are going to the governor, urging the state’s compliance.

The city and STPUD intend to have MTBE-free gas in their stations by July 1. The county’s tanks should be MTBE-free by Aug. 1.

The three-person committee also is recommending that, until a statewide MTBE labeling campaign is in place, STPUD randomly sample gasoline sold at stations to verify that MTBE has not been added to the fuel. Additionally, the committee is recommending that El Dorado County amend its ordinance to require additional containment for underground storage tank systems.

The committee also is recommending STPUD continue work on a Groundwater Management Plan that, if adopted, could give it more regulatory authority over its groundwater.

Brown said the newly formed committee feels confident the actions being taken are the best way to get MTBE out of South Shore’s gas.

“Because the California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board are being so proactive, we’re willing to kind of time (our action) with them,” she said.

What: STPUD meeting

When: July 1, 2 p.m.

Where: City Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Blvd.


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