YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


EPA Won't Give a Pass on Fuel Additive

Three states lose their bids to not oxygenate gas. California, which has tough standards, says the rule actually increases air pollution.

June 03, 2005|Tom Hamburger | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson rejected a request Thursday from California and two other states to waive requirements that gasoline contain an additive to reduce air pollution.

Johnson said the states had not shown that using an oxygenate -- a substance that adds oxygen to the gasoline -- would interfere with their ability to meet federal air standards. As a result, the waiver request was denied.

The decision was criticized by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and officials from New York and Connecticut -- the other states that had requested waivers.

The move was praised by corn growers and manufacturers of ethanol, an oxygenate made from corn.

"With this decision, the EPA continues to acknowledge the proven benefits ethanol has on air quality," Leon Corzine, the president of the National Corn Growers Assn., said in a statement.

The substances most commonly used as oxygenates are ethanol and MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether. California banned MTBE in March 1999 because of concerns over groundwater contamination from leaks in storage tanks.

In April 1999, then-Gov. Gray Davis requested a waiver from the oxygenate mandate. In 2001, the Environmental Protection Agency denied California's application, saying the state did not demonstrate what the effect on the ozone level would be if the waiver were granted.

As a result, California is compelled to blend ethanol with gasoline, raising the cost and, critics say, increasing air pollution in the summer. The state has the most stringent gasoline standards in the nation and has reduced emissions without requiring such additives.

"The California Air Resources Board researched this issue at length and found that ethanol-blended gasoline does not help California meet the goals of the Clean Air Act as it relates to ozone formation," Feinstein said in a statement. "In fact, ethanol actually increases the emission of pollutants that cause ozone in the summer months."

Feinstein said in her statement that she had spoken with the EPA's Johnson about the decision and that she was "reviewing options."

An aide to Schwarzenegger said the governor was unhappy with the decision.

"California has demonstrated it can produce clean fuel that protects air quality without the use of oxygenates," said Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Julie Soderlund in Sacramento. "The governor has called upon Congress to address this issue through the federal energy bill."

Feinstein, a member of the Senate Energy Committee, recently succeeded in adding language to pending energy legislation that would grant California a waiver from the oxygenate requirement during the summer.

Federal law mandates that gasoline sold in areas with smog contain 2% oxygen by weight. The law does not say which oxygenate must be used.

The three states that petitioned the EPA use only ethanol because of concern about MTBE's threat to groundwater.

The EPA rejected the New York and Connecticut petitions for what it said was a failure to submit sufficient technical data.

California offered data, but the EPA concluded that the state had "not demonstrated that the oxygen content requirement prevents or interferes with the state's efforts to achieve clean air."

Under terms of the Clean Air Act, the agency said, it was required to reject the request.

Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times Articles