California sues US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over fuel additive requirement

California Governor Gray Davis has announced that the state is suing the EPA to force it to drop a requirement to add oxygenates to 70% of California gasoline, saying that it will increase air pollution and petrol costs.

The suit was filed in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court by the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Resources Board (ARB), which maintains that the EPA ignored extensive information that ethanol, the only oxygenate that will be available in sufficient quantity to California refiners in 2003, will increase smog-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx) and cancer-causing particulate matter (PM) pollution, and drive up the cost of petrol. ARB studies found that ethanol causes petrol to evaporate more quickly in the summer, causing more NOx. New research has also found that ethanol takes more energy to make than it yields when combusted (see related story).

“EPA made a decision that failed to follow sound science,” Governor Davis commented. “The EPA simply ignored the voluminous information we sent them showing that ethanol does nothing to clean the air and actually increases air pollution. We regret having to take this action, but we are left with no choice. California residents should not have to pay more for gasoline and suffer from increased air pollution.”

California says that scientific studies have shown that petrol formulated to the state’s standards, which are stricter than US EPA standards, burns cleaner without oxygenates such as ethanol. The studies also show that oxygenates in gasoline increase NOx emissions and the formation of ozone and PM. The federal oxygenate requirement is, however, seen as a boon to mid-western agri-business interests, which produce ethanol from corn. In addition, California would need at least 660 million gallons of ethanol each year under the federal oxygenate mandate and any disruption in ethanol supplies caused by transporting such huge quantities would bring sharp petrol price hikes to the state’s consumers, the Governor’s office says.

California’s waiver request came after Governor Davis signed an executive order banning the oxygenate MTBE, which can cause water pollution, by December 31, 2002 (see related story), which was rejected by the US EPA on 12 June. If the EPA’s action is allowed to stand, California would be hindered in its attempts to meet its

clean air standards, the strictest in the US.

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