US MTBE group asks court to block New York ban law

12 July 2000 19:28 Source:ICIS News

WASHINGTON (CNI)--The Oxygenated Fuels Association (OFA) said Wednesday it has filed suit in US federal court seeking to overturn a new New York state law that will end use of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) by 2004.

OFA, which represents MTBE manufacturers, contends that the recently enacted state law to bar MTBE from reformulated gasoline (RFG) in New York violates federal law.

OFA executive director Thomas Adams said: "It is clear that the Clean Air Act specifically prohibits states from tinkering with the federal RFG program. Not only is the New York law legally impermissible, but it would also result in dirtier air and higher gasoline prices for state residents."

"We've taken this action not only for our member companies, but also on behalf of the citizens of new York who have a right to both clean water and clean air," Adams added.

In May, New York's Republican Governor George Pataki signed a bill passed by the state legislature that will prohibit the sale or use of MTBE in fuels beginning 1 January 2004. Pataki said the ban was necessary because of the "significant environmental impacts" of MTBE on the state's water supplies.

"OFA strongly believes that new York's attempt to deal with leaking underground gasoline storage tanks by banning the key component of cleaner burning gasoline is simply bad public policy," said Adams.

Rather than banning MTBE, the trade group said New York should vigorously enforce existing storage tank regulations, clean up existing gasoline contamination, and encourage the adoption of national fuel standards that permit refiners flexibility in making gasoline while ensuring continued air quality improvements.

RFG accounts for approximately 55% of the gasoline sold in New York state, and MTBE is used in approximately 95% of that fuel to meet the Clean Air Act's 2% oxygen requirement, according to the OFA.

In its complaint, OFA contends that New York's action contradicts congressional intent because lawmakers left the choice of which oxygenate to use in RFG up to the marketplace.

Furthermore, the group argues that if each state were to have its own requirements for gasoline, the price per gallon would increase due to the special blending and handling that would be required to support such a "patchwork" of formulations.

"The MTBE issue is a complex one that needs to be resolved after a thorough science-based review of its costs and benefits, along with a careful review of the alternatives to MTBE," said Adams.

"Unfortunately, the MTBE issue has been driven more by politics and emotion than by sound science, and we are counting on the courts to put the issue back in perspective," he added.

New York is the latest of several states to take action against MTBE. California has ordered the additive to be phased out of the state's gasoline by the end of 2002.

By Glenn Hess