Feds To Phase Out MTBE Gas Additive

Dec. 28, 2000
The Clinton administration has decided to phase out MTBE as a gasoline additive on grounds it poses a risk to public health or the environment MTBE, a leading oxygenate and octane booster, reduces emissions of smog, but it has been linked to groundwater pollution in California and elsewhere.

Carol Browner, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was announced that her agency will seek to "significantly reduce or eliminate" use of MTBEs under the Toxic Substance Control Act. That law allows EPA to ban chemicals "deemed to pose an unreasonable risk to the public or the environment," said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The agency also will ask Congress for changes in the Clean Air Act that will encourage use of ethanol, an additive from corn, in place of MTBE, according to a congressional source. The 1990 law requires the use of oxygenates in gasoline.

The EPA previously has said it has no authority to regulate MTBE, and Congress should act to limit its use considering evidence the additive is contaminating groundwater. MTBE is used in all or part of 16 states and accounts for a third of the gasoline sold, including much of that sold in the Northeast. Refiners turned to the additive after the Clean Air Act required gasoline in areas with serious air pollution to contain at least 2 percent oxygen by weight.

Last summer, an EPA advisory panel said that while current levels of MTBE in water pose no health risk, its use should be dramatically curtailed because of potential widespread water pollution problems. MTBE has been found to be a carcinogen and poses health and environmental risks, other critics of the additive have said.