N.J. Senate Votes to Ban MTBE

Critics say switch to ethanol would increase pollution

TRENTON, N.J. -- The New Jersey Senate has voted to prohibit gas stations from selling gasoline containing clean-air additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which has been linked to groundwater contamination, said The Gloucester County Times.

First mandated in 1990, MTBE was designed to reduce harmful emissions from fossil fuels by making them burn cleaner. It has since been branded by some as a toxin in its own right and frequently serves as a bellwether for more dangerous chemicals in aquifers, said the report.

By working [image-nocss] to eliminate the need for MTBE and other chemicals like it, we would be working to protect residents from developing life-threatening diseases like cancer from their drinking water, said State Senator Stephen Sweeney, the bill's sponsor.

Members of the state Senate passed the legislation 21 to 14.

The federal government required the use of MTBE in certain cities nationwide with high levels of air pollution. By the mid-1990s, it was increasingly found in soil and water samples due to leaking tanks at gas stations. In 1999, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed outlawing MTBE.

Sweeney's legislation would abandon it for corn-based ethanol. He and others are looking to secure funding for a $60 million ethanol plant on the Huntsman site, a former industrial site in West Deptford, N.J., said the report.

The bill is pending action in the Assembly.

The legislation has run into stiff opposition from environmentalists, who petitioned the state legislature to seek a waiver from a 1990 federal mandate that New Jersey suppliers put an oxygenate in gasoline. Opponents of the bill pointed to an earlier vote Monday to crack down on smog released by school buses and other diesel engines. They passed a good clean air bill and within a couple of hours passed a dirty air bill. It's a de facto mandate for ethanol, which would result in higher levels of smog and cancer, said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation.

The head of the state chapter of the Sierra Club assailed one provision in the legislation that would allow New Jersey's refineries to continue producing MTBE and shipping it out of state. It seems to be more about (tax) ratables than the environment, said Jeff Tittel, director of the organization. The Legislature ought to be trying to do the best for the public in New Jersey. MTBE should be banned and we should be trying to get rid of all oxygenates.

He said the disparity between banning use of the chemical and allowing its manufacture is a bad precedent. The sale and transportation means it's OK to poison other people's water in other states, Tittel said. If there's an accident, it still gets into our water.

Under the legislation, the prohibition would take effect in 2009, the report said.