GOVERNOR WHITMAN AND DEP WELCOME END OF WINTERTIME
OXYGENATED FUEL PROGRAM
Governor Christie Whitman today applauded the agreement between the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New Jersey Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP) to end the wintertime sale of oxygenated
gasoline containing 2.7 percent oxygenate.
Under the plan, gasoline meeting the standards of federally reformulated
gas (RFG) which contains 2 percent oxygenate, will be on sale statewide
all year. The most commonly used oxygenate is Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether
"This is great news for all of the people of New Jersey," said Governor
Whitman. "I commend Commissioner Shinn for working with the EPA to come
to an agreement concerning the use of MTBE and I applaud them for this
step in lessening reliance on oxyfuel."
For more than two years, the DEP has sought EPA approval to discontinue
the program, which adds oxygenates such as MTBE to gasoline to reduce
carbon monoxide (CO) levels that can build up in the cold winter air.
No air pollution monitor in New Jersey has recorded carbon monoxide levels
above the federal health standard since January 1995. Although only two
consecutive years without a violation of the CO standard is required to
terminate the oxygenated fuel program, EPA had withheld approval pending
construction of New Jersey's enhanced vehicle inspection and maintenance
system and because of concerns that vehicles from New Jersey contribute
to accumulations of CO at some intersections in New York City.
In a letter to DEP Commissioner Bob Shinn today, EPA Regional Administrator
Jeanne Fox noted that since New York and New Jersey will both have enhanced
auto emission programs in place this winter, EPA has begun the process
of approving New Jersey's request to discontinue the oxygenated fuel program.
DEP had conducted an extensive evaluation of CO levels in New Jersey
and New York City. The data submitted to EPA indicated all areas of concern
comply with the health standard.
"The facts are clear. CO levels on both sides of the Hudson are good.
With the advent of our enhanced auto inspection program, and our new diesel
truck and bus emission tests, air quality will continue to improve. Given
the public health and groundwater contamination concerns regarding MTBE,
terminating this program is a wise course," said Commissioner Shinn.
Refiners add MTBE to gasoline to increase oxygen content, which improves
combustion. However, many drivers express concern that MTBE fumes cause
headaches, nausea and similar health problems.
There is growing concern nationwide over groundwater contamination by
MTBE, which dissolves readily in water, spreads quickly and, unlike most
other gasoline ingredients, is not digested by common soil bacteria. NJDEP
has detected MTBE in 73 public water supply wells. The additive is found
at varying levels in the state's groundwater supplies and surface waters.
In some areas there is no ready explanation for trace levels of MTBE contamination
of groundwater, but the few serious incidents of contamination have been
traced to leaking underground storage tanks or other accidental release.
In 1996, after discovering MTBE in both public and private wells, DEP
became one of the few states to set drinking water standards for MTBE.
In addition, New Jersey has a well-funded tank removal program that is
successfully detecting and treating contaminated groundwater.
"MTBE contamination of groundwater is a serious concern," Shinn said.
"By reducing the year-round use of MTBE we have taken a prudent and practical
measure to reduce the risk of groundwater pollution while continuing to
reduce CO levels."
Shinn and Fox agree that the approval process for the state's request
should conclude before the start of the oxyfuel season, which traditionally
runs from Nov. 1 - Feb. 28. EPA has pledged to expedite the process, which
will provide refiners and distributors with ample time to adjust winter
fuel deliveries. Under the plan, gasoline meeting the standards of federally
reformulated gas (RFG), which contains 2 percent MTBE, will be on sale
statewide all year.
The sale of RFG has been a year-round, federal requirement since 1995.
New Jersey has had an oxyfuel program since 1992.
"In 1975, when there were far fewer cars on the roads than we have today,
the health standard for carbon monoxide was exceeded 864 times in New
Jersey and generally by a wide margin. Thanks to improved automobile pollution
control systems and cleaner fuels, the health standard for carbon monoxide
has not been exceeded since January 1995," Shinn said. "Termination of
the wintertime oxygenated fuel program is a testament to the success of
our air pollution programs."