As we have read over the past several months, there is no question that MTBE (Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether) is polluting water supplies across the country. MTBE is used in gasoline sold in areas where the federal clean air standards have not been met. Environmental officials are currently aware of approximately 1,700 MTBE spills around New York State. The irony here is that the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Federal Clean Air Act mandated that the petroleum industry use MTBE to reduce air pollution, but inadvertently created a serious threat to our drinking water. All citizens deserve both clean air and clean water and never one at the expense of the other.
Although we still are not fully aware of the dangers of drinking water tainted with MTBE, we can never be too cautious where public health is concerned. Certain studies have indicated that it is a carcinogen and causes tumors. Besides, no one would want to drink water that smells and tastes like turpentine. A bill, which would ban the use of MTBE as late as the year 2004, passed the Assembly in February. Four years is much too long to wait. Immediate action must be taken. I have drafted legislation to create the MTBE Public Health and Environmental Protection Act of 2000. My proposal would help provide our state with a plan to deal with early detection, remediation and cleanup costs, as well as answer the question of whether oxygenates are truly needed in today's cleaner burning combustion engines. My proposal will also provide an objective evaluation of the concerns arising from the effects of the use of MTBE on air and water quality. By eliminating MTBE, we can prevent the further spread of MTBE to other sources of drinking water, but government must also work to ensure a clean and safe drinking water supply.
I urge our federal representatives to take immediate action to eliminate a section of the 1990 Clean Air Act that requires gasoline to contain at least 2 percent oxygen by weight and to finance the cleanup of all MTBE-related spills and/or groundwater contamination that pose a risk to public health and the environment in New York State. Long Islanders cannot be expected to foot the bill for a problem the federal government created.
Steven L. Labriola
New York State Assemblyman