Active push for removal of MTBE

Local officials are supporting a new move to eliminate the use
of the chemical MTBE from any gasoline sold in San Benito, Santa
Cruz or Monterey counties.
Local officials are supporting a new move to eliminate the use of the chemical MTBE from any gasoline sold in San Benito, Santa Cruz or Monterey counties.

Supervisors Ron Rodrigues and Bob Cruz applauded a plan by the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District that would eliminate the use of the additive in gasoline sold within the tri-county area.

“It’s something that both of us have been working on for quite awhile because MTBE is very toxic and is a proven carcinogen,” Rodrigues said.

MTBE, Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, is a fuel additive known as an oxygenate. An oxygenate is designed to help fuels such as gasoline burn cleaner.

Recent reports from water agencies to the air pollution control district have indicated that 104 sites in the tri-county area have been contaminated by MTBE.

“After hearing from the public at two hearings and state and local experts, I believe that we can prevent further contamination of groundwater supplies while still protecting air quality,” Monterey County Supervisor Edith Johnsen said.

In response to the reports and other concerns, the district is sending a letter to the state’s Environmental Protection Agency, asking it to prohibit the sale of gasoline with MTBE in the area.

Air Pollution Control Officer Douglas Quetin said the letter essentially asks the state EPA to make four findings:

– That the removal of MTBE will not lead to the air basin being designated as a state or federal non-attainment area for air pollution;

– The removal of MTBE will not result in an increase in toxic emissions into the atmosphere;

– That the (tri-county region) is a vulnerable groundwater area;

– That the removal of MTBE will not significantly affect the price or supply of gasoline.

If the state EPA approves the findings, it can then ban the sale of gas with MTBE, Quetin said.

“This is part of a (procedure) set out in the state Health and Safety Code,” Quetin said.

He said the public should not be frightened about the banning of MTBE causing problems for motorists who need to buy gas locally.

“One of the findings is that there won’t be a price spike or limit on the availability of gas,” Quetin said.

Cruz said the district held two extensive hearings on the subject before issuing the letter to the EPA.

“We heard from the big oil refiners like Shell and a couple of other companies and they said there would be no supply problems,” Cruz said.

A price increase of possibly 1 cent or 2 cents per gallon is all motorists may have to pay.

Rodrigues said the small price increase would be worth the trade off for health concerns and the life of vehicle.

“MTBE actually cuts down your gas mileage. Two to 5 cents per gallon is lost because of this stuff,” Rodrigues said. “We don’t need the oxygenate in our gasoline. They could find other additives that are less carcinogenic.”

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution several years ago calling for a halt in the use of MTBE.

“I took that resolution to the state capitol,” Rodrigues said.

Gov. Gray Davis called for a ban on the use of MTBE statewide by the end of this December.

However the air pollution control district is concerned that Davis might extend the statewide deadline to remove MTBE to December 2003, Quetin said.

The district decided to take steps to ensure the additive would no longer be used.

If the EPA approves the district’s request, it would become the second region in the state to eliminate the use of MTBE.

Davis directly approved the ban on MTBE in El Dorado County, Quetin said.

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