Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Eco-Groups Say "Ban MTBE"

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Eco-Groups Say "Ban MTBE"

Article excerpt

On May 9, Earth Island's Bluewater Network and 90 other environmental groups sent a joint letter to Congress demanding a complete ban on the use of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and all other ether-based oxygenates. "A phase-out of MTBE and other ether-based oxygenates must be complete and total to be effective," the letter states.

In April, the American Chemical Society revealed that one-third of the nation's community drinking water wells may already be contaminated by MTBE. The MTBE from a single overturned automobile can contaminate 75 million gallons of water. Once MTBE gets into water supplies, even at low levels, it is extremely difficult and expensive to remove.

Reversing MTBE contamination could cost billions and take decades. The environmentalists' letter calls on Congress to require polluters, not taxpayers, to pay for the clean up: "This cleanup should be entirely funded by the oil industry, which chose MTBE over safer alternatives, rather than by taxpayers."

MTBE will be phased-out in California by December 31, 2002, but California's request to the EPA to opt out of the Clean Air Act's oxygenate program has set off nationwide concern over weaking the Clean Air Act. There now are more than a dozen bills making their way through Congress that would give states the option of dropping the Clean Air Act's oxygen requirement, de-spite the fact that this federal requirement does not specify the use of MTBE.

Evidence suggests that the Clean Air Act's oxygen requirement has substantially reduced vehicle air pollution. States that abandon this requirement will suffer worsening air quality in the very same areas where MTBE has devastated drinking water supplies.

"We can't stand by and allow the oil industry to use the MTBE problem as an excuse to gut important air quality protections," Bluewater declared. …

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