From: John Heilprin, Associated Press
Published August 9, 2005 12:00 AM

Energy Bill Drops Requirement for Smog-Reducing Gasoline Additives

WASHINGTON — Additives in about a third of the nation's gasoline -- aimed at reducing smog in urban areas with the worst air pollution -- will no longer be required under the energy policy that President Bush just signed into law.


Virtually everyone says the requirement that gasoline be formulated to contain at least 2 percent oxygen by weight isn't needed anymore. Some say it never was.


The most commonly used substances for adding oxygen to gasoline are methyl tertiary butyl ether, known as MTBE, and ethanol derived from corn. Several states, including California and New York, have banned MTBE after it seeped into local water supplies, and other states are phasing it out.


Congress in 1990 rewrote the Clean Air Act to establish the oxygen standard after experts said it was the best and quickest way to cut pollution from automobiles and trucks. With it, gasoline burns more efficiently, removing pollutants like carbon monoxide from incomplete combustion.


Since then, refiners have developed different blends of gasoline without the oxygen that burn just as cleanly.


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"It is clear that people have learned a lot in the last 15 years about how to get that 2 percent benefit another way," said Jeff Holmstead, the Environmental Protection Agency's top air quality official.


The change in law takes immediate effect in California, from Sacramento to San Diego. It goes into effect nine months later in the East Coast, from Boston to Norfolk, Va.; in Chicago, St. Louis and other Midwest cities; and around Dallas, Houston and Atlanta.


Health advocates, oil industry representatives and government officials dispute how much the oxygenates were ever needed. But they agree that dropping it will help reduce the problem of groundwater pollution caused by widespread use of MTBE.


"It's sort of a success story. ... We anticipate we'll get approximately the same air quality benefits and not have the MTBE problem," said A. Blakeman Early, an environmental consultant to the American Lung Association. "It shows the adaptability of the refining industry. You can say we want cleaner gasoline, and they'll produce it."


Early said ethanol and MTBE could effectively be replaced with other additives such as alkylates -- synthetic oils -- and isooctanes -- high-octane gasolines.


Oil industry representatives also cite better engines from the auto industry. Oxygen sensors used in vehicles built since 1994, a year before the oxygenate requirement went into effect, can effectively adjust the air-to-fuel ratio to achieve the same cleaner burn, they said.


The energy bill Bush signed Monday still calls for refiners to double their annual use of ethanol to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012, but the case for that is more political -- nurturing a new market for Midwestern corn growers -- than environmental.


"The environmental rationale has been eliminated," Ed Murphy of the American Petroleum Institute said of the oxygenate requirement. "It's outlived its usefulness and no longer needs to exist, and is causing difficulty in the fuels market."


States where the change will occur after 270 days, according to the EPA, are Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The change also will take place in the District of Columbia.


States that had voluntarily turned to oxygenated gasoline in the belief it would also help reduce their pollution include Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.


Source: Associated Press


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