EPA Lifts Requirements to Add Ethanol, MTBE to Gasoline

States no longer will have to add corn-based ethanol or MTBE to gasoline to fight pollution — a requirement that costs as much as 8 cents a gallon — under rules announced Wednesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

They eliminate a mandate from the 1990 Clean Air Act that gasoline used in metropolitan areas with the worst smog contain 2 percent oxygen by weight. The law did not say which oxygenate must be used, but most refiners use either ethanol or methyl tertiary butyl ether, known as MTBE.

California, New York and Connecticut unsuccessfully had asked the EPA for a waiver of the requirement because the states had banned MTBE after finding it polluted the groundwater. The states were forced to use ethanol, which they contend worsened pollution problems.

In denying the waiver request, most recently in June, the EPA said the states had not shown that using an oxygenate had prevented or interfered with their ability to meet federal air standards. Some officials in the states contended the denial was political because ethanol production is a boon to corn growers in the Midwest.

The rules announced Wednesday put in place a part of the energy bill the president signed in August that did away with the 2 percent oxygenate requirement.

"The federal requirement has forced California's refiners to use an oxygenate even though they can make cleaner-burning gasoline without MTBE or ethanol," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "The announcement means that California refiners will finally be allowed to make gasoline that is cleaner burning than what they are making today."

The rules will take effect nationwide on May 6 and in California 60 days after their publication in the federal register, which should happen within the next three months, said EPA spokesman John Millett. California has a different status under clean air laws than the rest of the country because of the state's pollution problems.

Parts of more than a dozen states fall under the 2 percent oxygenate requirement, according to the EPA, while others use oxygenates voluntarily. Nationwide, about 30 percent of gasoline contains oxygenates.

The states required to use oxygenates in certain areas are: California, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Oxygenate additives on average increase the price for gasoline by 4 cents to 8 cents per gallon, the EPA estimates. But the agency says the benefits include at least 100,000 tons per year fewer smog pollutants nationally, equivalent to the tailpipe emissions of 16 million vehicles.