Governor moves to free New Hampshire from federal MTBE requirements

Gov. Jeanne Shaheen ordered the state DES to work aggressively to free New Hampshire from federal rules requiring that the additive MTBE be used in gasoline sold in the state.

Concord, NH, April 27, 2001 — Gov. Jeanne Shaheen issued an executive order directing the state Department of Environmental Services to work aggressively to free New Hampshire from federal rules requiring that the additive MTBE be used in gasoline sold in the state.

In addition, in a letter sent April 16, Gov. Shaheen informed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman of her decision to seek the immediate withdrawal of New Hampshire from the federal Reformulated Gasoline Program, which requires the use of MTBE.

"There is an abundance of evidence that MTBE poses a serious risk to our groundwater here in New Hampshire and across the Northeast. Clean water and clean air are both critical to our quality of life and the health of our residents. We can not sacrifice one for the sake of the other," Gov. Shaheen said. "Because the federal Clean Air Act and its associated regulations provide states with virtually no authority to reduce MTBE in gasoline, states are essentially compelled to contaminate their precious water resources. This is an unacceptable solution.

"As a result, I am forced to take steps to remove New Hampshire from the Reformulated Gasoline Program RFG. I am taking this action because it represents the only rational, and legal, approach available to the State at this time to sharply reduce the levels of MTBE in gasoline supplied to New Hampshire," Gov. Shaheen said.

MTBE, a gasoline additive originally intended to reduce air pollution, has been found to pose unacceptable risks to drinking water supplies. In testing mandated by legislation approved by Gov. Shaheen, the Department of Environmental Services found that 16 percent of New Hampshire's public water supplies, and 27 percent of private wells analyzed, have some level of MTBE. MTBE is highly soluble and moves quickly in groundwater; even a small spill can result in widespread water contamination. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers MTBE a potential human carcinogen.

The federal government mandates that additives such as MTBE be used in the federal RFG program. Current EPA regulations do not allow states to opt out of the program until Jan. 1, 2004. As part of her executive order, Gov. Shaheen is pushing the EPA to change its rules so New Hampshire can leave the program earlier.

Despite the efforts of some states to ban MTBE, the federal Clean Air Act does not allow states to alter federal fuel specifications. New York's attempt to ban MTBE, for example, is being challenged in court.

The Executive Order directs the Department of Environmental Services:

* To submit all necessary information to the EPA for opting out of the federal Reformulated Gasoline Program;

* To work with the legislature to enact any legislation necessary to accommodate New Hampshire leaving the federal RFG program and to increase funding for cleaning up MTBE;

* To continue working to develop regional and/or federal solutions to the problem;

* To provide information to the Governor and Legislature about the pros and cons of any possible substitutes for MTBE;

* To follow outcome of MTBE-related litigation and advise the Governor on appropriate steps depending on outcome of these cases; and

* To work with the federal government to pursue federal funding for cleaning up MTBE.

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