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Eco-Groups Say "Ban MTBE".

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.

Losing the oxygen requirement without substituting renewable fuels is expected to result in increased use of alkylates in gasoline. There are no studies on the impacts of increased alkylate use on public health. "A doubling (or more) of alkylates in gasoline -- about which we know almost nothing -- is eerily similar to the MTBE mistake made years ago," said Bluewater Executive Director Russell Long.

The environmentalists' letter asks Congress to ban all ether-based fuel oxygenates -- including ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE), tertiary amylmethyl ether (TAME) and diisopropyl ether (DIPE). These chemicals, which have physical characteristics very similar to MTBE, are known to be toxic and may cause cancer.

Ethanol is a renewable fuel oxygenate that provides air quality benefits like MTBE while posing very little threat to water quality. Ethanol can be produced from rice straw, wood pulp, corn stover and other agricultural by-products. Bluewater spokesperson Brooke Coleman claims that the California Air Resources Board "chose not to include data showing the air quality and global warming benefits of oxygenates like biomass and ethanol."

"Using locally-produced biomass ethanol is a win all around -- for the environment and for the economy," Bluewater's Long concludes. "It is a self-sustaining national energy source that supports local farm economies and communities. Americans can have both clean air and clean water."

What You Can Do Congress is considering several bills that would merely reduce the use of MTBE instead of banning it. Please write your representative and senators asking them to totally ban MTBE. Please send copies of your letters to the Clean Fuels Campaign, c/o the Bluewater Network.
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Title Annotation:methyl tertiary butyl ether
Author:Lynch, Elisa
Publication:Earth Island Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2000
Previous Article:Positive Notes.

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