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RELEASE: 6/24/99
CONTACT: Peter Page or Amy Collings
609-984-1795 OR 609-292-2994


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 (MTBE).

"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."



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