Reid works to eliminate MTBE |

Reid works to eliminate MTBE

Federal lawmakers want to attack Lake Tahoe’s quality from both sides.

One of the Senate’s two big men on campus these days, Harry Reid of Nevada, joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in seeking ways to end the use of the controversial gasoline additive MTBE.

Reid, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced legislation last week that would also encourage chemical manufacturers to develop alternatives to methyl tertiory butyl ether. Federal grant money would be available for such endeavors.

MTBE, a hazardous chemical, was classified as a possible cancer-causing agent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after it was added to large volumes of gasoline in California to protect air quality – particularly in smoggy areas like Sacramento.

The fuel additive has contaminated and closed at least a dozen drinking wells in the South Tahoe Public Utility District, the lake’s largest water purveyor.

“While adding MTBE to gasoline was intended to help clean the air, it also has contaminated wells, rivers and lakes,” Reid said. “MTBE contamination threatens drinking water supplies and contributes to the decline of unique natural wonders including Nevada’s own Lake Tahoe.”

Nevadans should not have to choose between clean air and water quality, Reid added Friday.

If the bill passes, MTBE would be banned from the nation’s fuel supply. The proposal also changes the Clean Air Act to ensure any future additives developed undergo testing that gauge water-quality impacts.

Feinstein’s bill, also introduced last week, would allow the governor of a state to waive the 2 percent oxygenate content requirement for reformulated or clean-burning gasoline. This was once the purpose of using MTBE.

To no avail, the California senator has tried to get the waiver in her state for the last three years.

Two years ago, Gov. Gray Davis ordered an MTBE phaseout from all gasoline sold in California by the end of this year.

Tosco Corporation of Martinez, Calif., joined the fight by pledging to convert nearly 1,600 California stations to ethanol. The company removed the additive from its three South Shore Union 76 gasoline stations.

To Reid, the time is now to change the course of environmental law in the nation.

He feels he’ll gain the support on the Senate floor, as the Democrats will now have the advantage of setting the agenda – not reacting to it.

Reid also cites an American sentiment that demands a healthy environment.

“People who love the environment are not only Democrats,” he said, noting the bill’s combined effort with U.S. Sen. Robert Smith, a Republican from New Hampshire.

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