April 16, 2004

Chickens Return To Roost

A story in Roll Call will be of interest to Bear Flag Leaguers in particular. As many of you know, passage of The Clean Air Act by Congress in 1990 mandated the use of oxygenated gasoline in certain geographical areas not meeting the National Ambient Air Quality Standard ("NAAQS") for carbon monoxide, which resulted in the use of MTBE in our fuel mixture.

California is now awash in MTBE ground water contamination and clean up costs from the easily migrating additive will be in the billions, if removing it from the water supply is even possible. The full scope of ecological and human damage from MTBE may never be known.

Californians protested and petitioned to stop the additive but the federal government prevailed, California and refineries were decreed by the EPA to accept the additive or face withdrawl of federal funding and fines.

Roll Call staffer Emily Pierce reveals how MTBE was fast tracked in Washington, neither party is covered in glory, but Senate Minority Leader Tom Dashcle (D-SD) is in it up to his lobbyist loving eyeballs.

Inside the MTBE Fracas (subscription req'd)

Back in 1990, Sen. Tom Daschle, a young Democrat from South Dakota and protégé of then-Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), led the fight to require oil companies to produce cleaner burning fuels.

Fourteen years later, those companies contend the current Senate Minority Leader’s original plan to require oxygen content in gasoline contributed to the rash of defective product lawsuits against an oil company-produced gasoline additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which adds oxygen molecules to fuel.

Congress “forced us to produce a product that otherwise never would have been produced in such quantities,” said Bob Slaughter, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association. “They told the industry to do this, and now the industry is being sued for millions of dollars for something they told us to do.”


During the 1990 debate, Daschle and others were wary of being accused of favoring one fuel over another, so they left the choice of oxygenates up to the EPA, which certified several, including MTBE.

Oil companies were already using MTBE in smaller quantities to replace the octane that lead had previously supplied. (Gasoline makers were forced to phase out leaded gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s because of pollution concerns.)


Of course, by using the lower-cost MTBE over ethanol, oil companies thwarted the goal of Daschle and Harkin to encourage the production of corn-based ethanol — an effort they have renewed in this year’s energy bill.

And since a number of states — such as California and New Hampshire — have banned MTBE, ethanol is finally taking off.

“We got about 15 percent of the market in the early years,” said one ethanol industry spokesman. “We’ve got up to 50 percent today. Over 50 percent of reformulated gas is blended with ethanol.”

But with Congressional opponents of ethanol use like Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) pressing the EPA to exempt their states from the 2 percent oxygenate requirement, even the cleaner-burning ethanol could be in trouble.

“You have to use it whether you need it or not,” complained Feinstein. “We can meet our clean air standards without an oxygenate.”

It’s an argument eerily similar to the one oil companies were making 14 years ago.

The very argument many of thousands of us made on the steps of the Capitol Building in Sacramento twelve years ago. We were dismissed by the media as right-wing cranks aiding and abetting the Big Oil cronies of Bush 41.

Now we are treated to the self-serving rhetoric of Dem Pols such as Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) decrying the extemption of oil companies to MTBE suits in the latest energy bill. Where was Senator Boxer in 1990 when we tried to stop MTBE? Oh, that's right, she was in the House of Representatives voting YEA on H.R. 3030.

The Dems have a real flip-flop problem, I'm beginning to think it's a pathological need to win at all costs.

Posted by feste at April 16, 2004 11:24 AM | TrackBack
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