The Other Gasoline Crisis: Speeding Up The Shift From MTBE To Ethanol

Date: 28 Sep 2000 | posted in: agriculture, Energy, Press Release | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail


For Immediate Release: September 28, 2000
Contact: David Morris, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 612-276-3456


MINNEAPOLIS, MN – While gasoline prices have captured the recent headlines, another transportation fuel crisis remains unresolved. MTBE, a gasoline additive widely used in larger metropolitan areas to comply with the Clean Air Act, has been found to contaminate the water. California and New York have already voted to phase MTBE out. A Federal bill to this effect has been approved by one committee in the Senate.

Ethanol, a fuel derived from crops and plants, can substitute for MTBE. Overall, ethanol blends have many environmental and economic development advantages. They reduce toxic emissions, move us toward a renewable-fueled economy, and open up new markets for hard-pressed farmers.

But ethanol suffers from one drawback. It raises the volatility of gasoline. Which means that in many urban areas, it can only be used if oil companies supply a very low volatility base gasoline, which they are reluctant to do.

Many in the environmental community are convinced that increased gasoline emissions translate into increased ground level ozone concentrations and adverse public health impacts. Despite the many environmental benefits of ethanol, some environmentalists vigorously oppose any loosening of the volatility standard for ethanol blends.

A newly released report by the Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. based Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) challenges that opposition.

“Ethanol has several undisputed environmental benefits”, says co-author and ILSR Vice President David Morris. “Reduced toxic emissions like benzene and particulate matter. Reduced greenhouse gas emissions. A shift from non renewable to renewable fuels. A single-minded focus on volatility is short sighted.”

“Ozone is a pollutant of only modest concern compared to benzene and particulate matter, which ethanol blends reduce,” notes epidemiologist Jack Brondum, a co-author of the report. “Moreover, recent data indicate that ethanol blends have a trivial impact on ozone formation. In fact, the entire debate is about whether, if ethanol were substituted for MTBE completely, ozone concentrations would increase or decrease by 1 part per billion when current levels are in the 130-150 parts per billion range.”


Avatar photo
Follow David Morris:
David Morris

David Morris is co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and currently ILSR's distinguished fellow. His five non-fiction books range from an analysis of Chilean development to the future of electric power to the transformation of cities and neighborhoods.  For 14 years he was a regular columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. His essays on public policy have appeared in the New York TimesWall Street Journal, Washington PostSalonAlternetCommon Dreams, and the Huffington Post.