Senator rants over death of bill aimed at MTBE | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Senator rants over death of bill aimed at MTBE

A California lawmaker criticized his colleagues after two bills related to fighting MTBE were killed earlier this week.

“It is outrageous that senators did not choose to protect the people or our water from toxic MTBE,” said Sen. Dick Mountjoy, R-Arcadia, after his bills failed to make it through the Senate Environmental Committee.

Mountjoy’s Senate Bill 1971 proposed to put a stop to California’s MTBE use by Dec. 31 of this year, two years earlier than the current governor-mandated ban. The second bill, SB 1972, would have directed the University of California to conduct a study of ethanol, the replacement of choice as MTBE is being phased out.



“We supported both of them,” said Dennis Cocking, spokesman for the South Tahoe Public Utility District, “although I was afraid that was going to happen.”

Because of an El Dorado County ordinance to ban MTBE on the California side of South Shore, which went into effect Thursday, Cocking said the failure of SB 1971 likely will not affect the area too much.




However, further study on ethanol is needed, he said.

“I think that failed because there is some scientific information available now about the fate and transport of ethanol,” Cocking said. “We have some hits of ethanol in our groundwater at Tahoe, and our concern is what happens when you have ethanol moving through an MTBE plume, what that does to the whole picture.”

The federal Clean Air Act requires cleaner-burning reformulated gasoline be sold in areas with bad air quality problems, including Los Angeles and Sacramento. The Act prescribes a formula for reformulated gasoline, including the requirement that it have at least 2 percent oxygen. In response to the requirement, refiners have primarily used the oxygenate MTBE, especially in California where MTBE comprises about 11 percent of the state’s gas.

Efforts are under way to try to repeal the 2-percent part of the Act. Without that change, ethanol will be used increasingly as MTBE is phased out.

Essentially a strong alcohol, ethanol is not supposed to be toxic. However, Mountjoy, STPUD and others have pressed for more studies.

“MTBE clearly shows that we must study chemicals before they are used on a widespread scale,” Mountjoy said.

Many California cities and especially the south shore of Lake Tahoe have been victims of MTBE contamination.

After more than 10,000 groundwater sites were contaminated statewide, California Gov. Gray Davis last year ordered the use of MTBE be phased out of the state by Dec. 31, 2002.


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