States Pressure Congress on Gas

Dec. 28, 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.