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MTBE BAN ADVANCES
Senate committee approves bill to eliminate gasoline additive
The senate is preparing to debate new legislation that would ban the addition of methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) to gasoline.
The sponsors of the bill (S. 950) want to curtail contamination of drinking water wells with MTBE. The substance imparts a foul odor and taste to water.
||PHOTO BY DAVID J. HANSON
But the Energy Department says the bill could cut U.S. gasoline supplies, especially in the summer, since MTBE is added as a fuel extender. DOE estimates the ban would cut the volume of gasoline produced in the U.S. by 400,000 barrels per day.
As approved by the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee last week, S. 950 would ban the use of MTBE in gasoline within four years. It would also allow state governors to waive a requirement in the Clean Air Act that reformulated gasoline, sold in heavily polluted urban areas, must contain 2% oxygen by weight to prevent smog-forming emissions. Refiners say they can produce cleaner-burning gasoline without oxygenates.
Corn and ethanol producers want to retain the oxygen requirement, thus ensuring expansion of the market for ethanol as an oxygen-boosting gasoline additive. Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.), chairman of the committee, says that, while he wants a renewable fuels requirement added to the bill, he does not favor retaining the oxygen mandate.
The Oxygenated Fuels Association, which supports the oxygen requirement, says the bill as it currently stands would force gasoline prices up and increase air pollution. "This ill-conceived legislation will reduce U.S. gasoline supplies at a time when we can least afford it," says association President Tom Adams.
Jeffords acknowledges the road ahead is a rough one for S. 950. "There must be a grand negotiation and political compromise in order to ban MTBE," he says.
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