California's MTBE suit against U.S. EPA praised by Metropolitan Water District

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California today praised California's lawsuit against the EPA that challenges EPA's recent denial of a waiver from federal regulations for gasoline.

LOS ANGELES, Calif., Aug. 15, 2001 — The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the state's largest provider of treated drinking water, today praised California's lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that challenges EPA's recent denial of a waiver from federal regulations for gasoline.

"It's very gratifying to see Gov. Gray Davis and the California Environmental Protection Agency pursue this issue, and we wish them every success," said Ronald R. Gastelum, president and chief executive officer of Metropolitan.

"The longer the federal government forces the petroleum industry to include MTBE in our gasoline, the greater the threat to Southern California's drinking water quality," Gastelum said.

Methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, is a gasoline additive that is intended to help improve air quality, but which has seeped from pipelines and underground tanks, polluting wells, and spewed from boat and watercraft engines, polluting lakes and reservoirs. The chemical is a suspected carcinogen and extremely small amounts give water a foul taste and odor.

"Just three weeks ago, Metropolitan co-hosted with Santa Monica a workshop at which we developed a draft action plan to prevent further pollution of Southern California's water supplies by MTBE," Gastelum said. "The possibility that Gov. Davis would challenge the EPA's decision in court was discussed at the workshop and encouraged. We certainly appreciate and applaud the governor's action."

California filed its lawsuit in federal court last Friday challenging the U.S. EPA's recent refusal to grant California a waiver from the requirements that gasoline contain an oxygenate such as MTBE. California maintains that it can meet clean air requirements without using oxygenates.

The federal Clean Air Act of 1990 required oxygenates in gasoline to improve air quality, and MTBE became oil refiners' oxygenate of choice. However, MTBE — which is highly soluble in water and does not readily degrade — soon found its way into drinking water.

In March 1999, Gov. Davis signed an executive order banning MTBE in the state's gasoline by the end of 2002, and the following month California formally requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA's oxygenate requirement for gasoline (two percent by weight or 11 percent by volume).

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced June 12, 2001, that California's request for a waiver would be denied, prompting the state's lawsuit.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving 17 million people in six counties. The District imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other water-management programs.

More in Environmental