Oxygenated Fuels Association sues to stop California MTBE ban

The Oxygenated Fuels Association, an international trade group based in Arlington, Va., filed suit Wednesday to enjoin the state ban on the use of methyl tertiary butyl ether in California gasoline. The complaint, filed in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to invalidate the MTBE ban because it is precluded by the federal Clean Air Act.


The Oxygenated Fuels Association, an international trade group based in Arlington, Va., filed suit Wednesday to enjoin the state ban on the use of methyl tertiary butyl ether in California gasoline.

Another group, the Renewable Fuels Association, said it was disappointed but not surprised by the challenge. "The switch from MTBE to ethanol has begun and is going smoothly."

The complaint, filed in federal court in Sacramento, asks the court to invalidate the MTBE ban because, OFA claims, it is precluded by the federal Clean Air Act. MTBE was widely used to fulfill the oxygenate additive requirements of the act, which was intended to decrease air emissions.

California Gov. Gray Davis in 1999 issued an executive order banning MTBE from California gasoline starting in 2002 (OGJ Online, Oct. 20, 2000). The move resulted from high-profile studies revealing that MTBE had leaked from storage tanks into groundwater. The studies sparked public concern.

OFA has previously predicted high prices and lower supply if the ban goes through. And it also predicts backsliding in air quality gains should MTBE be banned.

"Retaining MTBE as an oxygenate will enable California to continue to reap the air quality benefits and cost effectiveness associated with MTBE," said Tom Adams, president of OFA. "OFA believes that a comprehensive scientific review of updated information, coupled with California's stringent primary and secondary water standards for MTBE, will show that the ban is unnecessary."

An OFA statement said that it is the clear intent of Congress to allow the choice of oxygenate to be left to the marketplace, and that MTBE "is the most cost-efficient and effective oxygenate on the market today."

A Renewable Fuels Association statement said the OFA's challenge is "baseless" and seeks to interfere with states' rights to protect their citizens. "MTBE is not mentioned, regulated or protected by the Clean Air Act," said RFA.

A number of other states and the Environmental Protection Agency have announced their intentions to restrict or eliminate the future use of MTBE, increasing the uncertainty regarding the continued use of MTBE in US gasoline (OGJ, Oct. 9, 2000, p. 52).

In 2000, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a compromise bill that would eliminate use of MTBE in reformulated gasoline (RFG) within 4 years or allow EPA to ban it sooner. Under the bill, state governors could waive the 2 wt % requirement for oxygen in RFG (OGJ Online, Sept. 8, 2000).

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