Senate Passes Fuel Additive Bill

Washington, D.C. -- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted Tuesday on a bill, S.950, that will phase out methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), an additive that makes fuel burn cleaner but that also has links to cancer and has been found to pollute groundwater.

MTBE has allowed states to meet a federal requirement that gasoline contain a 2 percent oxygen additive to cut down on air pollution. If approved, the bill would give each state governor the power to exempt his state from the 2 percent federal requirement, which farm state senators have seen as a threat to Midwest ethanol manufacturers. Corn-based ethanol is the only other fuel oxygenate available and apparently is safe to use. Without the requirement in place, ethanol demand would drop significantly.

Sponsored by Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., the bill also would authorize $400 million for monitoring and cleanup of MTBE contamination from leaking underground storage tanks.

Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., an opponent of the bill, said it only will increase the nation's reliance on foreign oil. The Department of Energy also has estimated that the bill may reduce U.S. gasoline supplies by more than 400,000 barrels per day.