States Pressure Congress on Gas

January 17, 2000

WASHINGTON--Eight Northeastern states
stepped up pressure Wednesday for Congress to give them greater authority to
regulate a gasoline additive that helps clean the air but is posing a threat to
lakes, steams and drinking water.

The air pollution control officials from the
eight states from New York to Maine urged Congress, when it reconvenes next
week, to move aggressively to lift a requirement for specific oxygen levels in
gasoline and allow states more leeway to regulate MTBE, the oxygen additive now
widely used.


MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, was
the additive of choice for the petroleum industry as it sought to comply with
federal requirements to have at last 2 percent oxygen in gasoline in areas with
major air pollution problems.


The so-called reformulated gasoline, which
includes MTBE, is used in all or part of 16 states and accounts for a third of
the gasoline sold in the country, including much of the gasoline sold in the
Northeast. Its use reduces releases of smog-causing and toxic chemicals into the
air from automobile tailpipes.


But last summer, the Environmental
Protection Agency in a major reversal of environmental policy, urged that MTBE
use be sharply curtailed because of worries that it is polluting waterways and
aquifers used for drinking water.


A blue-ribbon advisory panel said that while
current levels of MTBE in water do not pose a health risk - although some levels
of water contamination have been detected in most states - the government should
abandon its widespread use of the additive to prevent a potential environmental
problem.


But since the report was issued, Congress
has not addressed the issue, leaving states ``in the unacceptable position of
being unable to respond to a serious public concern,'' said Jason Grumet,
executive director of the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management.


The group, based in Boston, represents the
eight states' air pollution control administrators.


The group said only congressional action
``can provide an adequate solution to concerns over current levels of MTBE
use.'' It said without changes in the federal law ``states are effectively
prohibited from addressing this significant public concern.''


SOURCE: The Associated Press.

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