Wilson’s MTBE veto called a blow to water quality in Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Wilson’s MTBE veto called a blow to water quality in Tahoe

Andy Bourelle

California Gov. Pete Wilson has vetoed a bill that local officials believe would have helped South Lake Tahoe’s fight the controversial gasoline additive MTBE.

Assembly Bill 1642 could have reduced California’s dependence MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – in California.

Although passing with strong support in both the state assembly and senate, Wilson vetoed the bill, indicating in his veto letter that, “ultimately, AB 1642 is unnecessary.”

However, the South Tahoe Public Utility District – which currently has shut down 12 of its 34 wells because of the MTBE threat – disagrees.

“The governor’s veto demonstrates that he is, indeed, blind, deaf and dumb on South Tahoe’s water contamination crisis,” said Bob Baer, STPUD general manager. “Over a thousand Tahoe residents and visitors have pleaded with him to act to protect our drinking water sources from MTBE contamination, and he doesn’t even acknowledge our plight.”

Wilson’s argument was that ethanol – the principle alternative to MTBE used in numerous states including Oregon, Nevada and Arizona – is not prohibited in California.

However, according to Assemblywoman Debra Bowen, D-Torrance/Marina del Rey, who introduced the bill, MTBE essentially has a monopoly in California.

AB 1642 would have allowed reformulated gasoline to be blended without regard to existing oxygen content standards unless the California Air Resources Board demonstrated an adverse impact to the emission that could be attributed to the increased oxygen content. The existing oxygen content standard, which requires reformulated gasoline to contain no higher than 2.7 percent oxygen by weight, is favorable to the use of MTBE, according to Bowen.

Despite evidence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency suggesting that increasing the oxygen content beyond 2.7 percent does not result in increased emissions, ethanol is essentially prohibited in California because its oxygen content of 3.5 exceeds the limit.

MTBE – which is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a possible cancer-causing agent – has contaminated groundwater at more than 10,000 sites in 24 counties throughout California.

Although the district was unhappy with the veto, STPUD officials are encouraged by the efforts of the city of South Lake Tahoe after receiving a draft of a resolution which will be addressed at the city’s Oct. 6 meeting.

“We are encouraged by the city’s consideration of an MTBE ban, especially in light of this governor’s failure to protect our drinking water,” Baer said.

The resolution states, “The City Council intends to consider a ban of the use of MTBE within the city of South Lake Tahoe to protect water sources which are vulnerable to contamination by MTBE if other governing agencies do not take action by April 1, 1999, the protect the city’s water supply.”

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

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