Press Releases & Bulletins

DATE: June 11, 2001

White House Ignored EPA Advice, Will Create Energy, Smog Problem

(Washington, D.C.) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today accused the White House of "playing politics" by rejecting a request by California to avoid mandatory use of ethanol in reformulated gasoline in the state.

The Trust noted that the White House ignored the advice of the Environmental Protection Agency, which had concluded that granting California a waiver from the requirement would lead to less smog-forming pollution than if an ethanol mandate were required. (The official EPA recommendation is available from the Clean Air Trust.)

The Trust also noted that the California Energy Commission has predicted that White House decision could lead to gasoline shortages and higher gas prices. The ethanol lobby had stridently opposed California's request. An official announcement is said to be imminent.

"The White House is simply playing politics with this issue," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. "This will mean dirtier air and price hikes at the pumps in California," he added.

"This is an astonishingly bad decision -- the California equivalent of arsenic," O'Donnell said, referring to the Bush Administration's earlier decision to rescind arsenic-in-drinking water standards.

"Once again, the views of EPA's professional staff have been thrown in the trash in favor of political considerations," O'Donnell added, noting EPA had concluded that the White House decision would mean up to an additional 26 tons a day of smog-forming pollution in California.

The issue arose because the Clean Air Act requires that gas sold in the nation's smoggiest cities contain an "oxygenate" that -- in theory -- makes it burn more cleanly. The requirement applies to about 70 percent of the gas sold in California.

Refiners have generally met this oxygen requirement through the additive MTBE. But California ordered MTBE to be phased out by the end of next year because it has contaminated groundwater.

The only practical alternative to MTBE is ethanol, which the California Air Resources Board found (and EPA agreed) creates more smog-forming pollution because it is more volatile. In other words, the oxygen mandate would become an ethanol mandate once MTBE is banned.

California's refiners and the state have concluded that they can make the cleaner-burning gasoline without any mandatory oxygen component.

Mandatory ethanol use poses additional challenges. It generally must be shipped to California from the Midwest. Because of limited ethanol supplies in California, specialists with the California Energy Commission have warned that an ethanol mandate could trigger a 6-10 percent gasoline shortfall by 2003, which would result in gasoline price spikes.

"The only real question here is why did the Bush Administration opt for more dirty air and more energy problems in California," said O'Donnell. "Was this done to cause political damage to California Governor Gray Davis? Was it to punish California's voters? Was it a payoff to ethanol producer Archer Daniels Midland, which contributed heavily to the Bush inauguration -- or was it all of the above?"