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The Fight over Mandates
Ethanol a cancer risk in water supply?
"THE FIGHT OVER MANDATES"
By Stella Sez, Hemmings Motor News, July 2000
In a letter sent to the Assistant Administer of the Environmental Protection Agency, Robert Perciasepe, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) urged the EPA to deny California’s request for a waiver from the federal reformulated gasoline (RFG) oxygen standard, "because their request fails to demonstrate that fuels without oxygenates, like ethanol, improve air quality."
Meanwhile, US Senator Peter G. Fitzgerald (R-Illinois) is urging that lawmakers designate $14 million for a Southern Illinois University (SIU) ethanol facility. After more than a decade of pleas by the farm community and unsuccessful appropriations battles in Congress, the national ethanol research plant at SIU may become a reality. (Does Colorado already have a federally funded ethanol facility?) The final version of this year’s crop of insurance reform bills will provide full federal funding for the project, if it is approved by Congress.
However, it has been reported by the Lake Tahoe "Daily Tribune" that ethanol is polluting Lake Tahoe’s groundwater. Earlier this year, ethanol replaced MTBE in all reformulated gasoline sold in and around Lake Tahoe. Ethanol has been detected in Lake Tahoe’s groundwater at concentrations as high as 130,000 parts per billion (ppb).
Is Ethanol A Cancer Risk?
Unlike MTBE, little is known about the impacts of ethanol releases into groundwater or the environment. However, because ethanol is the primary ingredient of beverage alcohol, which is classified by the California Proposition 65 Committee and other cancer experts as a human carcinogen, many are concerned about the possibility that ethanol may pose a cancer risk. Additionally, independent researchers have determined that ethanol in groundwater can extend plumes of other more potent gasoline carcinogens (benzene, toluene, etc.) up to 25%. In addition, ethanol is less effective than MTBE at fighting air pollution, and due to transportation and supply problems, will likely increase gasoline prices.
Additional reports are concerned about the high sulfur content of gasoline. The auto industry is calling on CARB and EPA to lower sulfur levels. The sulfur content of denatured ethanol is receiving increased attention as politicians and refiners simultaneously attempt to lower MTBE and sulfur levels in the gasoline pool. The topic received considerable attention during a California Air Resources Board (CARB) workshop in April on CaRFG3. CAPP President Charlie Peters attended the workshop and according to a presentation given there, sulfur levels in ethanol, once denatured, are being called into question. CaRFG3 calls for 20 ppm of sulfur. CARB requested samples because reports are that ethanol may contain between 60-160 ppm of sulfur.
Recently, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) released its congressionally mandated report on cancer-causing substances. The report declined to list MTBE as a cancer-causing agent or as an agent likely to cause cancer, however, but did add ethanol-based beverage alcohol to the list of known carcinogens.
"Super Clean Gasoline"
"Super Clean Gasoline" is on it’s way to many gas stations. This month, a new type of reformulated, smog-reducing gas will be required in Boston, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and other major cities. The EPA predicts that the new fuel will cost up to two cents a gallon more than conventional gas to produce, and the costs will be passed on at the pump. But even before this new gasoline is introduced, the battle to delay it’s introduction has been waged. The EPA has rejected requests for a temporary waiver from Illinois and Wisconsin. The EPA recently awarded a temporary waiver to St. Louis as pipeline problems restricted supply of the new grade to the area. Does the "new" RFG 2 have MTBE in it, or ethanol? I asked that question of Mr. Donald Bea of the Inspection and Maintenance Review Committee (IMRC). He told me the 2% oxygenate mandate is still in place. He also said the RFG 2 has lower sulfur and lower Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP). Mr. Bea also mentioned that because of the lower RVP required in the Northeast, ethanol may not be used.
In New York, Governor George Pataki signed two major environmental initiatives into law, including a ban on MTBE that has polluted underground water supplies. According to the "New York Times" article, "Mr. Pataki also signed legislation that tries to limit the amount of pollutants that now drift into New York from coal-burning power plants in Midwestern and Southern states, causing acid rain. The measure seeks to stop New York companies from selling pollution allowances. The credits, essentially the right to pollute, are awarded to companies that cut their own emissions below a federal standard. The credits are now sold on the open market, usually to utilities with older power plants that find it cheaper to buy such credits instead of modernizing their plants and cutting their emissions.
"The new law calls for the state to seize all proceeds that a New York utility makes from selling its credits to polluters in the Midwest and the South. The law allows state regulators to impose a fine equal to the amount of such a sale; the fine would be used to promote development and the use of nonpolluting energy sources like solar power. The law limiting pollution credits goes into effect immediately, and the ban on MTBE is to take effect in January 2004."
Beware Of The Texas Emission Patrol
The first wave of Houston-area vehicle owners is scheduled to appear in justice-of-the-peace courts to explain why they didn’t obey letters ordering them to have their vehicles tested for excessive emissions. Commuters in the Dallas-Fort Worth area also have been summoned to court. The citations were issued in May after random roadway tests, conducted since the end of 1998, detected vehicles that emitted excessive pollutants. The owners, identified by their license plate numbers, were sent letters directing them to have their vehicles inspected at an emission-testing station. Thus far, 125 people have received citations for failing to heed the letters, a criminal violation that carries a fine of up to $350.
The Texas Legislature ordered random roadway testing of cars in 1995 after lawmakers abandoned a plan that would have required regular emissions testing for vehicles in Harris and its surrounding counties. The 1995 decision was viewed as a compromise to spare commuters who live outside Harris County the burden of having their vehicles undergo annual emissions testing. The remote testing, done from a van at random locations that commuters use, is conducted by a contractor who uses a sensing unit, a camera and a device that measures a vehicle’s speed and acceleration.
Charlie Peters and I attended the IMRC meeting at the California Air Resources Board hearing room in Sacramento on May 31. This meeting was of special interest, as the subject was Smog Check evaluation report to the Governor and Legislature. The reports done by the IMRC and CARB/BAR were reported to be based on many assumptions as well as computer models. The perception created appeared to be an attempt to resolve differences between the reports. CARB seems to support separation of test and repair and the IMRC supports remote sensing, creating a debate between A and B: remote sensing and separation of test and repair. Some options under consideration CARB mentioned (to comply with the perceived shortfall of meeting the State Implementation Plan [SIP]), were: putting 1966 to 1973 cars back into the program (goodbye SB-42); more stringent cut points to increase effectiveness; increasing the cut points halfway between current cut points and what is required in the SIP. A chart showing SIP hydrocarbon cut points are more stringent for older cars than newer cars. I will report more on this next month.
HALT In The Name Of The Law
No more high-speed police pursuits, ever. That is the goal of a new technology demonstrated during the California Peace Officers Association’s annual conference. The device is cunningly dubbed "High speed Avoidance using Laser Technology," or HALT. If implanted in cars, the small microsensor would allow police with a remote control laser gun
to force motorists to a slow, safe stop from up to half a mile away.
The sensor would be embedded near the license plate, giving officers something to aim at. Implanting the device into a new car would cost about $20. Retrofitting cars already on the streets with the sensors would cost about $100. California sources reported that it was mentioned on the evening news that you would not be able to re-register your vehicle unless you had this installed!
Last but not least, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, a non- profit organization representing 300 publications, filed a "friend of the court" brief supporting the contention that Commonwealth Court erred in concluding that documents concerning the state’s $145 million settlement with Envirotest Inc. did not constitute "public records." The California company had been contracted to build and operate auto emissions-testing centers throughout Pennsylvania; the Ridge administration agreed to the buyout after canceling the contract. The case is scheduled for September.
More next month... Stella