Trade group sues California, charges MTBE ban violates Clean Air Act

The Oxygenated Fuels Association filed suit to enjoin the ban on the use of MTBE in California after December 31, 2002.

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 24, 2001 — The Oxygenated Fuels Association (OFA) today filed suit to enjoin the ban on the use of MTBE in California after December 31, 2002. The complaint, filed in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to invalidate the MTBE ban because it is precluded by the federal Clean Air Act.

Ban proponents cite MTBE detections in groundwater as the primary reason for taking action against the smog-fighter. However, recent data demonstrate an impressive reduction in MTBE groundwater detections as the state's remaining leaking underground gasoline storage tanks continue to be upgraded, fixed and properly monitored.

"Retaining MTBE as an oxygenate will enable California to continue to reap the air quality benefits and cost effectiveness associated with MTBE," said Tom Adams, President of OFA. "OFA believes that a comprehensive scientific review of updated information, coupled with California's stringent primary and secondary water standards for MTBE, will show that the ban is unnecessary," said Adams. "We hope the state will recognize our lawsuit as an opportunity to reconsider a policy decision that could, if reversed, allow the state to avoid gasoline price increases that are expected to occur when MTBE becomes unavailable."

The OFA suit is based upon the fact that the federal Clean Air Act has established uniform requirements for gasoline that preempt California's MTBE ban. In addition, it is the clear intent of Congress that the choice of the oxygenate added to enable gasoline to burn more cleanly and meet strict emissions requirements be left to the marketplace. As a result, refiners have chosen to make the majority of California's cleaner burning gasoline with MTBE because it is the most cost-efficient and effective oxygenate on the market today.

As an oxygenate, MTBE is added to gasoline to lessen the impact motor vehicles have on the environment by reducing tailpipe emissions. Additionally, MTBE is used to maintain fuel quality and performance and to extend gasoline supplies during peak driving seasons.

However, many experts predict backsliding in air quality gains and a negative effect on the price and supply of gasoline should MTBE be banned. "It is clear that unless the California MTBE ban is halted, California's air quality gains will deteriorate and the price of gasoline will increase," said Adams.

California's ban on MTBE also raises questions about the price and viability of the potential alternatives to MTBE. For example, gasohol (made from corn-derived ethanol) is a poor substitute for MTBE due to:

* supply and transportation problems that drive up the price of gasoline;

* ethanol's contribution to the formation of smog; and

* ethanol's 54-cents per gallon federal subsidy which is an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers of this country.

"The MTBE issue is a complex one that needs to be resolved after a thorough — and science-based — review of its costs and benefits, along with a realistic assessment of the alternatives to MTBE. Californian's should not have to pay more at the pump for dirtier air," said Adams.

"Unfortunately, the current process is ignoring the science behind MTBE, the benefits associated with its use, and the real world consequences of California's MTBE ban," said Adams. "At present, it would appear that the MTBE issue is being driven more by politics and emotion than by the facts," he added.

The Oxygenated Fuels Association is an international trade association incorporated in 1983 to advance knowledge about the use of oxygenated fuel additives which improve the combustion performance of motor vehicle fuels, thereby significantly reducing automobile emissions and air pollution. Visit us at

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