TRPA expected to make move to eliminate MTBE |

TRPA expected to make move to eliminate MTBE

Andy Bourelle

Following the example of the California Air Resources Board, Lake Tahoe regulators on July 28 likely will eliminate the requirement for fuel sold inside the basin to contain oxygenates, thus helping to get the controversial gasoline additive MTBE out of the area.

CARB last month lifted Lake Tahoe’s wintertime oxygenate requirement, and the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will consider doing the same Wednesday. Earlier this month, TRPA’s advisory board, by a vote of 12-0, recommended lifting the regulation.

To South Shore’s primary water purveyor, which has lost the use of more than one-third of its wells from MTBE contamination, it’s another good step in getting the fuel additive out of Tahoe’s gas.

“We would be happy to get the oxygenates out of the gas,” said Dennis Cocking, information officer for the South Tahoe Public Utility District. “We would support their decision as we did CARB’s.”

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – and ethanol are the most widely used oxygenates, with MTBE the most frequently used in the Lake Tahoe Basin. MTBE comprises about 11 percent by volume of most of California’s gas.

The compound was added to fuels in the 1980s in relatively small amounts but later increased because of federal air quality rules. The federal Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 required the use of oxygenated fuels in the areas of the country with the worst air pollution. Lake Tahoe was not one of those places. However, both CARB and TRPA have adopted regulations requiring the use of oxygenates at Tahoe during the winter, when atmospheric conditions make it harder for pollution to leave the area.

In recent years, MTBE has contaminated thousands of groundwater sites in California. People from around the state, including STPUD officials, fought for a ban of MTBE.

California Gov. Gray Davis in March responded by ordering a three-year phaseout of the compound. Also as a part of his order, state officials were to work with the oil companies to get MTBE-free gas to Lake Tahoe as soon as possible. Now, more than half of the area’s service stations serve fuel without the controversial substance.

The final part of his order was to see to it that the Tahoe Basin’s wintertime oxygenate requirement is lifted, which CARB did June 24.

If TRPA’s board approves the proposal Wednesday, there would be no rule requiring oxygenates at Tahoe.

A study conducted by the University of California, Davis, last year says that in newer cars MTBE does little to help California’s already clean-burning reformulated gasoline.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies MTBE as a possible cancer-causing agent. At very low levels, MTBE-contaminated water is undrinkable because it has a horrible taste and odor.


What: TRPA meeting

When: Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.

Where: North Tahoe Conference Center, 8318 North Lake Blvd., Kings Beach

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