Tahoe prepares for local MTBE-ban action | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tahoe prepares for local MTBE-ban action

Despite assurances from state officials that MTBE-free gas is coming to the Lake Tahoe Basin as quickly as possible, three South Shore government agencies are planning to move forward with a cooperative agreement to help fight the controversial fuel additive.

“We’re going to continue to move forward until we know there’s no MTBE in the gas,” said Jim Jones, chairman of STPUD’s board of directors.

More than 30 people Friday attended a public meeting to discuss MTBE. There, representatives from the California Air Resources Board and California Energy Commission discussed what the state was doing to get MTBE-free gas to Lake Tahoe.

“Hopefully, they won’t have to (take local action),” said Dean Simeroth, chief of the criteria pollutants branch of the air board. “That’s the message we’re trying to deliver. It looks like they are getting the supplies.”

Whether action by the soon-to-be-formed body will be necessary, officials plan to at least take that step.

“We’re going to form a three-person committee. Then, as a committee, we’ll decide what’s next,” said Dave Solaro, El Dorado County supervisor.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District, city of South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County may take action this week at their respective meetings to form the agreement. The agreement, if approved by all three boards, is supposed to coordinate efforts and resources to eliminate MTBE from South Shore gasoline by July 1.

At the meeting, Gordon Schremp, senior fuels specialist of the Energy Commission, said he anticipated 14 gas stations – primarily South Shore stations – would be serving MTBE-free gas by July 1.

There are more than 60 sites in the basin with gasoline, he said. Twenty-five of them are at service stations, and the others belong to municipalities, resorts and marinas. While the brand stations, such as Exxon and Shell, may have an easy time getting clear gas, it may be hard for independent stations, he said. They may have to agree on new contracts or find new suppliers.

MTBE stands for methyl tertiary butyl ether. It is a gasoline additive comprising significant portions of California gasoline. In march, Gov. Gray Davis issued an order calling for a phaseout of the additive’s use in California by the end of 2002. Also in his order, he directed the air board and energy commission to work with the petroleum industry to get MTBE-free gas to Lake Tahoe, one of the most affected areas.

Also resulting from the order, the state air board is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for a waiver for California cleaner burning gasoline from the federal Clean Air Act requirement for oxygen content in reformulated gas. That would allow California gas, likely the cleanest-burning in the country, to be exempt from a requirement that high-pollution areas – including Southern California and Sacramento – must use an oxygenate in gasoline. A scientific panel last week announced that oxygenates such as MTBE and ethanol do little to improve cleaner-burning gasoline.

Lake Tahoe currently has a wintertime oxygenate rule, and, also as a result of the governor’s order, the state air board is evaluating the necessity for the requirement. A meeting is scheduled in June to address the issue.

At Friday’s meeting, State Assemblyman Thomas “Rico” Oller said he believed the state of California, not gas station owners or those affected by contamination, should be responsible financially for cleaning up MTBE problems. It was the state’s mistake to put MTBE in the gas, Oller said, and it should bear the burden of cleaning up contamination.

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