MTBE-free zone status for South Lake Tahoe? |

MTBE-free zone status for South Lake Tahoe?

by Andy Bourelle

Is it possible to ban MTBE from South Lake Tahoe?

The city is going to find out.

“We are going to have an item on the (Oct. 6) agenda to discuss the possibility of creating what’s called a MTBE-free zone,” said Kerry Miller, South Lake Tahoe city manager.

Miller said the city will be looking at possible alternatives for getting the controversial gasoline additive out of South Lake Tahoe. Implications that potential resolutions would have as well as enforcement authority are other issues that will need to be addressed, he said. Whether local gasoline suppliers would be willing to comply is another issue that will need to be discussed.

If the city does ban the controversial gasoline additive, it would be the first time it has been done in California.

“No other local government agency in California has made their area MTBE free,” said Dawn Forsythe, South Tahoe Public Utility District information officer.

Alaska and North Carolina have banned MTBE.

Officials from the California Air Resources Board spoke to the South Tahoe Public Utility District Board of Directors last week, explaining that the state’s “cleaner burning” gasoline is required to be used at Lake Tahoe but gasoline with MTBE in it is not.

Oxygen-content or oxygenated gasoline is required by the federal Clean Air Act in about 70 percent of the state, in locations that are high pollution areas and must follow federal reformulated gasoline requirements, according to CARB.

Oxygenated gasoline is not required in South Lake Tahoe. However, it is required in Sacramento, where Lake Tahoe’s gasoline comes from.

Local gasoline suppliers might be able to obtain gasoline from San Francisco, where oxygenated fuels are not required, but because of shipping the cost of gasoline in South Lake Tahoe likely would increase, CARB officials said.

Gasoline is produced in Sparks. However, it does not comply with California clean air requirements.

Mayor Hal Cole said he felt the City Council’s consideration of banning MTBE will “start the ball rolling” with other area government agencies.

“If we attack it from a bunch of different fronts, we’ll solve this problem sooner rather than later, I’m sure,” Cole said.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a synthetic chemical oxygenated gasoline additive classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent.

Since September 1997, 12 of the STPUD’s 34 drinking water wells have been shut down because of the threat of MTBE. The STPUD board of directors has taken emergency action to drill two new wells before next summer’s busy tourist season. MTBE has caused an estimated $1.3 million expenditure to the district, none of which was budgeted for.

“Our feeling as the city is to support the utility district in its effort,” said City Councilmember Judy Brown. “MTBE is not just the utility district’s problem. It’s everybody’s problem.”

Before an actual ban is in place, Brown said, input from all involved parties, including South Lake Tahoe’s gasoline suppliers, will be sought.

“The problem is a very serious one, but everyone has to be involved in the process,” she said.

STPUD is supportive of the effort.

“The city of South Lake Tahoe is about to undertake an urgent and far-reaching debate,” said STPUD General Manager Bob Baer. “The mayor, council members and the city manager are stepping up to the plate in a way that state and federal authorities have not.”

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