NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Ending The Reformulated Gas Mandate

November 5, 1999

The 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act created the reformulated gasoline (RFG) program, designed to reduce ozone in smog. It requires the addition of so-called oxygenates in nearly a third of all gasoline sold in the United States.

Recent concerns about groundwater contamination by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the most widely used oxygenate, have led California to order a phaseout of MTBE. However, if the oxygen content requirement is retained, the likely replacement will be ethanol.

But neither MBTE nor ethanol is very useful in reducing air pollution. Both a 1999 National Research Council Report entitled "Ozone Forming Potential of Reformulated Gasoline," and the Environmental Protection Agency's recently released "Report of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Oxygenates in Gasoline," noted the benefits of eliminating the oxygenates mandate.

  • The Blue Ribbon Panel Report, released in September 1998 concluded that MTBE use should be reduced due to public health concerns -- although it found no actual evidence of a public health threat.
  • However, the Blue Ribbon Panel Report also called for the elimination of the oxygenates mandate.
  • The NRC Report concluded that "the use of commonly available oxygenates in RFG has little impact on improving ozone air quality and has some disadvantages."
  • Specifically, it said, "the addition of MTBE or ethanol appears to have only a small effect on the exhaust emissions of RFGs."

If the oxygenates requirement were eliminated, refiners would have the flexibility to meet the emissions standards required of RFG without being tied to a minimum MTBE or ethanol content, and most believe this challenge can be met. And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has proposed legislation that would essentially eliminate the oxygenates mandate for all the states.

Source: Ben Lieberman, "Running On MTBE: Closing The Pumps On The Oxygen Content Requirement ," CEI On Point, No. 50, October 29, 1999, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 1250, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 331-1010.


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