California sues EPA over ethanol requirement for gas

The Associated Press
Monday August 13, 2001

LOS ANGELES — California officials are suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in hopes of reversing a decision requiring the state to use what they consider a needlessly expensive and polluting gasoline additive. 

The lawsuit, filed late Friday afternoon in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, calls on the agency to waive rules that effectively will require ethanol to be added to most of the state’s gasoline. State officials announced the move in a conference call with reporters Sunday. 

Gov. Gray Davis has ordered that the only oxygenate available besides ethanol – MTBE – be phased out by January 2003 because it pollutes ground water.  

State officials argue that California can meet federal air-quality goals with non-oxygenated, reformulated gasoline. 

The EPA’s oxygenate requirement is “a straitjacket mandate that will drive up gas prices while increasing air pollution,” Davis said in a statement. “The potential for harm to Californians, both economically and environmentally, leaves me no choice but to fight back with guns blazing.” 

California produces 5 million to 7 million gallons of ethanol a year, a far cry from the estimated 600 million to 900 million gallons it would need to comply with the rules. That would make the state dependent on the Midwest, which grows the corn used to make most ethanol. 

Winston Hickox, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said that because California’s ethanol needs represent a huge portion of the roughly 2 billion gallons expected to be produced this year, the chances are great that supply problems could send prices skyrocketing. 

According to state estimates, the ethanol switch could add as little as 2 or 3 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline, but supply problems could send pump prices soaring 50 cents or more.