STPUD supports tax for EPA |

STPUD supports tax for EPA

Brian Bose

The South Tahoe Public Utility District wants a $10-a-barrel tax on state oil sales to fund the Environmental Protection Agency’s mandated cleanup of MTBE.

District officials testified in Sacramento in support of SB 2198 before the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. The legislation already has passed the State Senate.

“This bill will set up $36 million,” said Dawn Forsythe, South Tahoe Public Utility District’s information officer. “A fee of $10 per barrel will be assessed on (California) oil refineries.”

The bill sets up a fund to support cleanup of public water systems and private wells and replace water supplies contaminated with gasoline or gasoline additives such as methyl tertiary butyl ether. SB 2198 cleared the California Senate 35-1, before moving to the Assembly Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. Once there, committee members took testimony from several affected parties. One of those was the utility district.

“Our drinking water comes entirely from underground aquifers, and those aquifers are being contaminated by MTBE,” Bob Baer, STPUD general manager, told committee members. “We are talking about contamination over 1,230,000 parts per billion, with our wells less than 100 feet from the plume edge. This is unacceptable – and we need your help to stop the degradation.”

Baer went on to explain that six of the district’s wells have been closed and three others need to be monitored daily solely because of the presence of MTBE. He said nearly $1 million of STPUD dollars has been spent to combat MTBE contamination, and the district has an annual budget of only $6.2 million.

Also supporting the bill were the Sierra Club, the Conservation and Planning League, the Association of California Water Agencies, and a variety of other public utility districts, said Forsythe. Opposing the bill were Atlantic Richmond Company and the Western States Petroleum Association.

While there is existing state law that authorizes the State Water Resources Board to spend up to $5 million annually to pay public water systems for the costs of treating the water supplies, it is not enough to tackle the problem.

“The Kuehl bill only set up funds for $5 million. We could use all of that alone. Santa Clara could use all of it, as could Santa Monica,” Forsythe said.

The committee decided to wait on voting until it talked with the oil companies to see if there is any common ground, Forsythe explained.

MTBE is a synthetic chemical added to gasoline by EPA directive to help optimize combustion from automobiles, thus improving air quality. It has been in California gasoline since 1992. A study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimated that the additive has contaminated more than 10,000 shallow monitoring sites in California.

It has recently been linked to human health-related problems, such as respiratory ailments.

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