Whether you live in a home, apartment or mobile home park, you need water to drink. Ad little has threatened our drinking water quality as much as the gasoline additive MTBE. The show "60 Minutes" has reported on this in the past.
A few years ago I wrote about a group called Oxybusters. This group wanted to outlaw MTBE from our gasoline supply.
Under federal law, gasoline suppliers must use a product that allows gas to burn more efficiently and MTBE was to have been such a product. The problem is that it leaked from many underground storage tanks and is blamed for ruining drinking water all over the US. Lawsuits are now filed everywhere, because many people claim that this product has threatened their health and lowered their property value.
The national grass roots group Oxybusters had enough of this and wanted MTBE banned. They have done a remarkable job towards this end and they are an example of what regular people can do, when they are determined and work together.
I thought it was time to catch us with these clean air crusaders to learn what, if anything, is new. And it turns out that a lot is new, according to Barry Dorfman, a pension plan specialist who has been with Oxybusters from about the beginning.
The group's biggest victory thus far occurred when an EPA Blue Ribbon Panel took the position that MTBE was no good. That was a few years ago, and MTBE is still being used. But at least the government now concedes the product has problems.
Progress seldom happens overnight, especially progress at the EPA. But, that was a magnificent victory nonetheless.
The group recently moved another mountain. EPA Administrator Christine Whitman denied California's request for a waiver of the "oxygenate mandate," which would have allowed California to expeditiously do away with MTBE. Oxybusters wrote to California's governor and urged that the State sue the EPA -which it in fact did.
Some believe that the prior EPA Administrator intended to grant the waiver, and that a draft approval actually existed. But time passed and no waiver was ever issued. This frustrates Oxybusters.
Oxybusters is still testifying at hearings concerning the MTBE problem. Its troops have also offered assistance concerning Canada's NAFTA based challenge to California's proposed MTBE phase out. Canada actually asserts that under NAFTA, California does not have the legal right to ban MTBE, because it is a Canadian product. In other words, a ban would be an unfair trade barrier. If that is not insane, then I do not know what is. Canada is asserting that California cannot protect its own drinking water.
Here is the latest MTBE news. Congress is considering a law that would phase out MTBE and encourage the use of ethanol in its place. Ethanol is made from corn, so what can be harmful?
Oxybusters asserts that this too is a bad product because it produces harmful substances when burned, and because it is not overly effective as a gasoline additive. Will Congress force us to substitute one poison for another. I would bet on it!
Look at how much of an impact a grass roots organization such as Oxybusters has had. These volunteers, with no money to speak of , have moved mountains. Citizens can, and often do, make a difference.