Administration Refuses To Ease Clean Octane Provision For California – Brief Article

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) hailed reports that President Bush denied California’s request for a waiver from the clean octane provisions of the Clean Air Act.

The Bush administration rejected another California request for energy price relief, this time siding with the politically potent farm belt. The Environmental Protection Agency said that it will not exempt California from lacing gasoline with ethanol, a corn-based additive that helps fuel burn cleaner and is a boon to Midwest agriculture. California claimed that forcing its energy-strapped motorists to use ethanol-treated fuel could add six cents to the already soaring cost of a gallon of gas. The state argued it could meet Clean Air Act standards without additives.

Many other states, especially in the Northeast, are stung by the move. They had hoped to follow California’s lead and convince the EPA they could meet the standards without fuel additives.

The decision will preserve the positive air quality benefits of oxygenates in gasoline and help keep California gasoline prices from rising higher. “The pending decision will finally remove the uncertainty hovering over the future of California’s gasoline market,” said Bob Dinneen, vice president of the RFA. “The ethanol industry is ready to supply the California oxygen market. With this decision, proposed ethanol plants across the country that have been on hold for the 25 months this decision has been pending are being given the green light to begin construction.”

The ethanol industry is currently on track to supply nearly 150 million gallons of ethanol to California this year to companies that have voluntarily ceased blending MTBE prior to the state’s official phase-out deadline of December 31, 2002. It will take roughly 580 million gallons of ethanol to meet California’s entire demand for reformulated gasoline (RFG) oxygenates in 2003.

“Because ethanol has twice the oxygen content of MTBE, refiners only need to blend half as much ethanol to meet the oxygen requirement,” said Dinneen. “In other words, you can replace roughly 18 cents of MTBE with only 7 cents of ethanol. That’s great news for California consumers.”

The ethanol industry can currently produce more than two billion gallons per year. With 34 existing ethanol plants undergoing expansions, eight new plants under construction, and more than 40 additional plants scheduled to break ground soon, the ethanol industry expects to have an additional 300 million gallons of production capacity on line by the end of this year. By the end of 2003, U.S. annual ethanol production capacity is expected to increase by 1.5 billion gallons per year to reach 3.5 billion gallons.

“President Bush is making the right decision to stand up for clean air, low prices, and domestic renewable fuels,” said Dinneen. “His decision is rooted in sound science and upholds the letter and spirit of the Clean Air Act. This action validates the technical analyses of the RFA and National Corn Growers Association that demonstrate the pollution reduction benefits of ethanol. Clearly, the California position that ethanol exacerbates emissions is technically bankrupt.”

“This decision reaffirms what EPA and state officials have been saying for the past 20 years — that ethanol helps reduce air pollution. With the benefits of the oxygenate standard once again reaffirmed, all parties should move forward in California to ensure a smooth transition from MTBE to ethanol. There is no reason to put California consumers at risk with further delays.”

Without oxygenates like ethanol, California’s air quality would worsen. Non-oxygenated gasoline would increase carbon monoxide emissions and carbon dioxide emissions (a leading greenhouse gas). Further, increased amounts of aromatics would be utilized, such as toluene, which increases exhaust emissions of benzene — a known human carcinogen.

Facing widespread water contamination from MTBE, California is phasing out its use by December 31, 2002. However, California also petitioned the federal EPA to waive the Clean Air Act requirement that RFG contain at least two percent oxygen by weight. This clean octane provision is enormously successful in reducing harmful emissions and also prevents gasoline from containing higher quantities of other harmful octane enhancers such as benzene. The RFA argued in technical submissions over two years the waiver was unnecessary because MTBE could be replaced with ethanol — preserving RFG’s air quality benefits but not threatening precious water supplies.

COPYRIGHT 2001 International Trade Services

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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