The EPA will reject petitions made by the states of California, New York and Connecticut to waive the oxygen content requirement for reformulated gasoline (RFG).
RFG has been required since 1995 in certain metropolitan areas of the United States with the worst ozone air pollution. The Clean Air Act requires RFG to contain 2% oxygen by weight. The law does not specify which oxygenate must be used—most refiners use either ethanol or MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). RFG sold in California, New York and Connecticut, however, contains only ethanol, since each state has banned the use of MTBE due to water contamination concerns.
In announcing the action Assistant Administrator of Air Jeff Holmstead explained: “Congress has required the use of oxygenates as part of the clean fuels program and has made it clear that this requirement can only be waived if a state demonstrates that it prevents or interferes with the state's ability to meet national air quality standards. California, New York and Connecticut did not make this demonstration.”
This is EPA’s second response to California, which sued EPA after the agency denied the state’s original petition in 2001. Today’s decision was made after EPA reviewed new information submitted by California and after EPA scientists and engineers conducted additional analysis to address the 9th Circuit Court's decision to vacate the agency’s original denial.
California has argued that ethanol blended gasoline can actually contribute to increased levels of summer smog. (During the Senate Energy Committee’s wrangling over the energy Bill, California Senator Feinstein managed to insert language that would provide California with a loophole to avoid the full RFS standard during the summer.)
While EPA agrees with California’s claim that an oxygen content waiver would lead to a decrease in certain vehicle emissions that contribute to the formation of smog and particulate matter, EPA concludes that the overall impact on emissions is slight. The agency found that total volatile organic compound (VOC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are likely to decrease with a waiver, carbon monoxide (CO) emissions are likely to increase.
EPA denied California’s petition based on the lack of evidence proving that the emission impacts of a waiver would lead to any earlier attainment of the air quality standards for smog or particulate matter than would occur without a waiver. In other words, California did not demonstrate that the oxygen content requirement prevents or interferes with the state’s efforts to achieve clean air.
EPA found that neither New York nor Connecticut submitted the technical data necessary for the agency to determine what impact the waiver would have on emissions and air quality. Without this information, EPA could not evaluate whether the oxygen content requirement prevents or interferes with attainment of the smog or particulate matter standards, and therefore must deny the waiver request.
Needless to say, ethanol supporters in the states are delighted, legislators from the petitioning states are not pleased.