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Drivers Foil City's Alternative-Fuel Plan : Pollution: Cars are equipped to operate on clean-burning methanol, but municipal workers often fill them with gasoline. Officials say that violates agreement with AQMD.


PASADENA — City drivers have regularly pumped gasoline into a fleet of 11 city cars that are represented as being fueled by clean-burning methanol, in violation of the city's agreement with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, state and city records show.

The 11 city-owned Ford Crown Victorias, their doors emblazoned with the Pasadena seal and the words, "Methanol Fueled--Our Contribution To Clean Air," are part of widely praised state program to reduce the use of fossil fuel.

A commission spokesman said records show that only three city cars used methanol in December and four did so in January and February.

"That's incredible," said Paul Wuebben, an official of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD), of city workers' failure to use methanol. "It's certainly not in keeping with the agreement."

Wuebben said this week that using gasoline when methanol fuel was available violated the terms of the city's participation in a demonstration program to expand the use of clean-burning fuels.

The city cars are all "fuel-flexible" vehicles, capable of using either gasoline or methanol.

Comments of city employees, as well as records maintained by the California Energy Commission, show that city drivers have regularly pumped most of the cars full of smog-producing gasoline from the city fleet maintenance yard rather than clean-burning methanol fuel from a state-supplied pump at a Mobil station two miles away.

A spokesman for the commission said records from the methanol pump show that only three cars from the 11-car fleet pumped fuel from it in December and four did so in January and February. City drivers enter a computerized card key into the pump, which records the vehicle and the amount of fuel issued.

Records for earlier months were not immediately available, the commission spokesman said. But a city employee who wished to remain anonymous said that city drivers have regularly gassed up in the city yard, at Mountain Avenue near the Foothill Freeway (210), since the beginning of the program last April.

The employee produced photographs of a "clean air" car being fueled with gasoline and copies of fleet maintenance division logs with gasoline entries for the some of the 11-car fleet.

Norman Carter, the city's director of general services, acknowledged that four of the cars had been using only gasoline because they were used by pool drivers who had not been oriented on the use of methanol. "We're going to take steps to take those cars out of the pool and assign them to employees," he said.

But he said that three other cars had used methanol exclusively, two had used it "primarily" and two used it "occasionally." Asked about the state records showing that only four cars had used any methanol fuel in recent months, Carter said, "Our records go back to June or July."

One driver from the city Department of Water and Power, who last Friday afternoon pumped 9.9 gallons of gasoline from a city pump into a city car with the methanol decal on its door, contended that methanol was not readily available in Pasadena.

"The nearest place is up in Bakersfield," said the driver, who would not give his name. "You use what's available."

The methanol program is part of an ambitious state plan to clean up the air. The state has enacted phased goals for the introduction of low-emission cars, such as those that use methanol. By the year 2003, 10% of all cars sold in California will have to be zero-emission vehicles.

State energy officials will also encourage the use of methanol by increasing the number of methanol pumps in the state to about 500 in 10 years, an energy commission spokesman said.

Last April, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by state, regional and city officials, Mobil Oil unveiled the San Gabriel Valley's first methanol pump. The outlet, which pumps a mixture called M85, composed of 85% methanol and 15% unleaded gasoline, is in a filling station at Lake Avenue and the Foothill Freeway.

Debbie Resh, manager of the Mobil station, said last week that the methanol pump had not run dry or been out of service since the program began. The pump supplies methanol for dozens of government and private commercial vehicles, including vehicles from the AQMD, the Metropolitan Water District and Arrowhead Water.

"If you can't get the city of Pasadena to do it, how do you expect the little guys to comply?" Resh said.

Experts estimate that, if all vehicles in Southern California used the mix, pollution from cars and trucks could be cut by 30% to 50%.

Pasadena officials lauded the city's participation in the methanol demonstration project.

"The issue is really clean air," said Bruce A. Williams, Pasadena's city fleet administrator. Pasadena officials have boasted that the city has the state's second largest--after Los Angeles--methanol group operated by a municipality.

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