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Gov. Davis Delays Fuel Additive Ban

March 16, 2002

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ Gov. Gray Davis on Friday pushed back a deadline to phase out a fuel additive that pollutes groundwater, saying the state risked gas shortages and prices hikes if the deadline wasn’t extended.

The ban on MTBE was set to go into effect on Dec. 31, 2002; Davis extended it to Jan. 1, 2004. The governor said the strain of shifting to other clean-fuel additives, like ethanol, would have resulted in supply problems.

``If I could snap my fingers and eliminate MTBE today I would do it in a heartbeat,″ Davis said.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is added to gasoline as an oxygenate to make it burn cleaner. Its use has allowed states to meet a federal requirement that gasoline contain a 2 percent oxygen additive to cut down on air pollution, but MTBE also been found to pollute groundwater.

California would require 900 million gallons of ethanol per year to make the transition away from MTBE, Davis said. But only seven companies nationwide produce ethanol, he said, raising fears California refineries and consumers could be gouged by a relatively small supply of the sugar cane- or corn-derived additive.

At least 13 states, including California, have either already banned or plan to ban the additive, but those efforts have been hindered because of a federal requirement that gasoline contain an oxygenate like MTBE.

A bill now before Congress would lead to a nationwide ban of MTBE in four years.

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