NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is EPA Repeating Blunder On Fuel Additives?

March 23, 2000

A decade ago, the Environmental Protection Agency was a vigorous champion of the gasoline additive MTBE -- heralding it as the salvation of smog-choked cities. This week it decided it should be banned, contending it may be a toxin contaminating water supplies. Experts say the agency was warned of that risk in the 1980s -- and then went ahead and ignored the evidence.

Now the EPA wants to replace MTBE with ethanol, which is derived from corn. Critics charge that decision is not based on science, is politically motivated and represents yet another enormous policy blunder akin to the one it made regarding MTBE.

  • Last summer, the National Research Council warned that ethanol could actually "be detrimental to air quality" by boosting emissions of smog-forming chemicals.
  • NESCAUM, the Northeast region's clean air board, warned that "ethanol should not be used in the summer ozone season" until concerns about its smog-boosting potential are resolved.
  • A September report from the EPA's own blue-ribbon panel on fuel additives said that ethanol use increases emissions of acetaldehyde.
  • Levels of that toxin -- which the EPA recognizes as a human carcinogen -- are already well above health-based risk standards in the Northeast.

Critics charge that the sudden popularity of ethanol at the EPA is politically, not scientifically motivated. An ethanol mandate would prove politically popular in key farm states in this election year, they explain.

Source: Editorial, "In Touting Ethanol, EPA Puts Politics Ahead of Science," USA Today, March 23, 2000.


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