Federal Appeals Court Rules in Ethanol Case

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the Clean Air Act when it rejected the state of California’s request to sell gasoline without an ethanol additive. With a ban on MTBE looming, California sought a waiver from the Clean Air Act requirement that reformulated gasoline contain an oxygenate.

Washington, D.C., July 30, 2003 [SolarAccess.com] The Clean Air Trust said that California produced evidence that oil companies could produce cleaner-burning gasoline without ethanol. According to the Clean Air Trust, EPA’s professional staff agreed during the Clinton Administration, recommending that EPA approve the waiver. But the Bush White House intervened and rejected California’s request. The appeals court ruled that EPA abused its discretion in refusing to consider and weigh the effect of the proposed waiver on fine particle soot pollution. “We said at the time that the Bush Administration abused the Clean Air Act, and today the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals agreed with our view,” said Frank O’Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust. “This was yet another example of the Bush Administration distorting science to achieve a political objective.” According to sources at the Clean Air Trust, this “political objective” appears to have been the support of ethanol which is predominantly produced in mid-western states. “We believe the Bush Administration was seeking to curry favor with farm states at the expense of California,” O’Donnell said. O’Donnell added that he regarded the decision as “a victory for clean air, and good news for breathers in California and other states like New York that are facing a de facto ethanol mandate as MTBE use is phased out.” Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) is found in gasoline and other petroleum fuels that are commonly stored in underground storage tanks (USTs). MTBE is typically added to reformulated gasoline, oxygenated fuel, and premium grades of unleaded gasoline. While MTBE is a known pollutant facing a gradual phase-out across the country, many contend that ethanol is an appropriate and desirable alternative. The additive is being used in California for the first summer this year and is often touted as a clean-burning, domestically-produced fuel. While this ruling could initially have appeared as a hindrance to the ethanol industry, representatives don’t see it that way. “The Renewable Fuels Association is pleased by the Ninth Circuit’s decision,” Bob Dinneen, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president. “The Court affirms EPA’s conclusion that ethanol-blended gasoline will not increase ozone formation in California and that the EPA’s decision to deny California’s request for a waiver from the RFG oxygenate requirement is supported by law and science.” For its part, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) does not see the ruling as a setback for ethanol fuel either. In a similar reaction to the RFA, the NCGA noted that the court affirmed most of the technical and procedural aspects of the original EPA decision, questioning only the potential impact of ethanol on particulate emissions. “While some may see this decision as a loss for ethanol, in reality, the EPA’s original decision was reaffirmed,” said NCGA Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett. “The court said EPA should have also looked at the impact on national ambient air quality standards. We are comfortable with the issues being remanded back to EPA. We are on the verge of obtaining a national renewable fuels standard and we don’t view this as a setback.” The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuing to study both the potential health effects and the occurrence of MTBE, which is on a list of contaminants for which EPA is considering setting health standards. The ruling comes as Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-California), among others, is raising questions as to whether the ethanol is a factor in the increase in smog in the Los Angeles basin this summer. Former Senators Edmund Muskie of Maine and Robert Stafford of Vermont incorporated the Clean Air Trust in 1995 as a nonprofit organization. According to the Clean Air Trust website, the organization was created to educate the public and policymakers about the Clean Air Act, to promote enforcement of the Act through grassroots education, and to defend itself against attack from special interest groups.
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