Governor George E. Pataki signed into law legislation to protect New York's water supplies against contamination from the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) by banning the use, sale or importation of fuels containing MTBE in the state beginning in 2004.
"The use of MTBE in gasoline has significant environmental impacts on groundwater," Pataki said. "While today's action is necessary to protect public health and safeguard the state's precious water resources, we will continue to fight for federal action to ban MTBE and identify an acceptable alternative. New Yorkers deserve clean air and clean water."
The legislation amends state law to prohibit gasoline containing MTBE as an additive from being imported, sold, dispensed or offered for sale in New York state beginning Jan. 1, 2004. Violators would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
Sarah J. Meyland, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, "Citizens Campaign for the Environment and our 80,000 members sincerely thank Governor Pataki for putting the interests of the people of New York first and listening to their expressions of support for banning MTBE in gasoline.
"This decision will help protect water quality and public health on Long Island and across the state and the governor's decision makes a strong statement that Washington must also be part of the solution of getting MTBE out of gasoline and out of the environment," Meyland said. "When Governor Pataki has faced hard choices like this one, he has consistently done the right thing for the environment and the well-being of all New Yorkers. His credentials as the 'environmental governor' have been further enhanced by this decision."
Senator Carl L. Marcellino said, "New York could no longer sit on the sidelines and wait for further proof of the dangers of MTBE. It has already been listed as a carcinogen to animals and a possible carcinogen to humans. While the original intent was laudable, MTBE has proven to be an ineffective failure. This new law is a significant step toward protecting New York's groundwater."
Assemblyman Thomas P. DiNapoli said that, "It became clear early on that the only way to keep MTBE out of the water supply was to keep it out of our gasoline supply. With the adoption of this legislation, New York becomes the first state in the country to enact a law specifically banning the use of this possible human carcinogen. Hopefully, today's action by the governor marks the beginning of the end for MTBE."
MTBE has been used since the 1970s to increase octane, replacing such toxic constituents as tetra-ethyl lead, and to boost the amount of oxygen in fuel, allowing it to burn more cleanly. The addition of oxygen was required under 190 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act in certain regions of the country, including the New York metro area, that fail to meet air quality standards.
Despite the air quality benefits that have been attributed to MTBE, there is considerable concern over its impact on surface and ground waters. Due to its high solubility in water and its ability to move quickly through groundwater, MTBE from leaking storage tanks and spills tends to move further than other components of gasoline and is more difficult to remediate.
The substance has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its strong turpentine-like smell and taste can be detected at very low concentrations.
In an effort to safeguard the state's water resources, Pataki in November 1999 directed DEC to toughen the state's standards for the amount of MTBE tolerated in surface and groundwater. The new guidelines, which were recently finalized, are the most stringent in the nation and reduce allowable levels of MTBE from the previous standard of 50 parts per billion (ppb) down to 10 ppb. Standards in the rest of the Northeast range from 35-100 ppb. DEC takes action to remediate all reported MTBE spills and ensure affected citizens have safe supplies of drinking water.
The State Department of Health also will issue new, toughest-in-the-nation standards this summer for allowable levels of MTBE in drinking water.
Pataki also called on Congress to clarify state and federal authority to address the MTBE problem. The Governor said EPA needs to review all the constituents of gasoline to ensure that its formulation doesn't harm air quality, rather than addressing it in a piecemeal fashion.
An EPA blue ribbon task force reported that MTBE's unique hydro-geologic properties are a cause of concern in groundwater, but supported the compound's air quality benefits. The group called for a phase-out of MTBE with the caveat that no "back-sliding" of air quality occur as a result. They also said the primary substitutes for MTBE may have drawbacks that should be considered.
The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) conducted its own study of MTBE last year and had similar findings to EPA's blue ribbon panel.
Because the federal Clean Air Act requires the addition of oxygen in reformulated gas, eliminating MTBE means some other additive will be needed to meet the federal mandate. Ethanol, widely used as an oxygenate in the Midwest, may be a substitute for MTBE in gasoline. However, there is concern over its potential environmental impacts, the ability to transport it cost effectively and produce it quickly enough and in sufficient quantities to meet Northeast market demand.
Pataki has directed New York State Energy Planning Board to prepare a report on alternatives to MTBE, their impacts on the environment, fuel prices and supply sufficiency.
"Governor Pataki has repeatedly demonstrated his leadership in protecting the environment and public health," State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner John P. Cahill said. "By signing this legislation, Governor Pataki is reaffirming New York's commitment to eliminate the threat of MTBE while continuing to support clean air for all New Yorkers."