MTBE saga to be aired on "60 Minutes" |

MTBE saga to be aired on "60 Minutes"

The CBS news program “60 Minutes” typically has three segments per episode, and in its 31 years has supposedly given news stories more than one segment on only two occasions.

The third is scheduled for this Sunday. The subject is MTBE, and the show will include coverage of Lake Tahoe’s situation.

“’60 Minutes’ is a powerful TV show that’s got a lot of national coverage,” said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has closed more than a third of its drinking-water wells because of MTBE. “I think we’ll see a lot of political ramifications after this airs.”

A “60 Minutes” producer and two-person camera crew came to South Shore Dec. 29 to shoot footage of Tahoe. STPUD officials helped them.

No one from the South Shore utility district was interviewed on camera. However, reporters interviewed Vick Sher, the attorney representing STPUD in its lawsuit against oil companies, gasoline distributors and service stations.

Cocking said he was told the program would focus on Santa Monica, which has had huge MTBE problems for years; Glennville, Calif., a small town virtually wiped out because of MTBE; and Tahoe, where STPUD has been a vocal opponent of the fuel additive. Beyond that, Cocking didn’t know what to expect.

“We’re as anxious to see it as anyone else,” Cocking said.

A TV news magazine, “60 Minutes” provides investigative reports, features and profiles of people in the news. Since its first broadcast, the program has won virtually every major broadcast journalism award and more Emmy Awards than any other news program. It also has been in TV’s top-10 highest-rated programs for 22 consecutive years, another record.

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive used widely in California. It has contaminated as many as 14,000 sites in the state, and Gov. Gray Davis has ordered it phased out of use by the end of 2002. Another part of his order, made March 1999, was that the state work with oil companies to provide MTBE-free fuel to the Tahoe area sooner.

Now almost all of South Shore’s stations are MTBE-free, while most of the state’s gas still contains MTBE, a suspected human carcinogen that makes water undrinkable at even low levels of contamination.

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