State looks at MTBE phaseout options | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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State looks at MTBE phaseout options

Andy Bourelle

An immediate statewide phaseout of the controversial gasoline additive MTBE would be catastrophic for California’s economy, according to the California Energy Commission.

The phaseout would be workable in stages, however.

The energy commission last week reported the results of a staff report, which was mandated by the governor and the Legislature. The report looks at three time frames for a possible MTBE phaseout.



A “near-term” removal of the additive could result in a 40 percent shortfall in the state’s gasoline supply, according to the report. If MTBE was phased out over three years, gasoline costs likely would increase up to 7 cents a gallon; over six years, the average cost increase would be up to 2.7 cents a gallon.

Considered a possible cancer-causing agent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the presence of MTBE has forced the closure of numerous South Shore drinking-water wells, including 35 percent of the South Tahoe Public Utility District’s wells. MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – spreads faster in water and breaks down slower than normal gasoline contaminants such as benzene.



The report was a part of an effort by Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration to explain its efforts to address California’s MTBE problem, which STPUD sees as the best part of the report.

“The good news is this is the first indication we’ve received from the Wilson administration that it is indeed concerned for California water supplies,” said Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer.

In addition to the phaseout study, the Wilson administration is looking at Jet Ski emissions and the fact that under federal law gas stations have to comply with environmental upgrades by Dec. 15.

However, Forsythe said, neither of these address the South Shore’s groundwater problem. Jet Ski pollution does not affect ground contamination, and all seven of the South Shore gas stations that have MTBE plumes threatening the water supply had upgraded their tanks prior to the leaks or spills.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince the state of California that (upgrading the tanks) is not the answer,” Forsythe said.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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