STPUD officials welcome the rejection of a lawsuit challenging California’s ban on MTBE |

STPUD officials welcome the rejection of a lawsuit challenging California’s ban on MTBE

Staff and wire report

South Tahoe Public Utility District Wednesday welcomed the rejection of a lawsuit challenging California’s ban of the fuel additive MTBE.

“It’s good news for California,” said Dennis Cocking, information officer for STPUD, which supplies water to the California side of Lake Tahoe’s south shore.

“We agree with the judge. We felt their case didn’t have merit,” Cocking said.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is an oxygenate used to make fuel combust more efficiently. MTBE is a suspected cancer-causing agent and at low levels of contamination, it renders water undrinkable. MTBE-tainted water smells and tastes like turpentine.

Oxygenated Fuels Association, an international trade organization representing 16 MTBE producers, had filed the suit in January claiming California’s ban violates the federal Clean Air Act. However, Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge David F. Levi in Sacramento said there was nothing in federal air quality regulations that precluded the ban.

While the Clean Air Act prohibits states from making their own laws regarding motor fuel and additives, it exempts California from the ban as the state that regulated fuel emission before Congress intervened.

Twelve of 34 drinking wells operated by STPUD were closed in 1997 after MTBE seeped into the groundwater from gasoline storage tanks. Eight wells were found to be contaminated with the fuel additive and were closed, while four others, considered dangerously close to the polluted water, were also shut down.

In April 2000, El Dorado County banned MTBE gas from being sold in South Lake Tahoe. Though the additive is still legal in Placer County and Douglas County, most of the gas being sold in the Tahoe basin is MTBE free.

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