Barely a week after the Bush administration said California must continue using gasoline additives to reduce air pollution, a federal environmental official suggested it may be time for Congress to eliminate the mandate everywhere.
Linda Fisher, the Environmental Protection Agency's deputy administrator, made the statement during a hearing Thursday on whether gas prices would increase because of last week's decision. The EPA denied California's request to opt out of a federal requirement that gas sold in the smoggiest cities contain oxygen to make it burn cleaner.
The state is phasing out natural gas-based MTBE because it has been found to pollute ground water. California argued it could meet federal clean-air goals without being forced to use the only oxygenate alternative, ethanol.
State officials fear there will not be enough ethanol to supply their enormous market, meaning higher gas prices for motorists.
But in testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Fisher said the oxygenate requirement may be outdated.
She stressed the clean-air gains of the federal reformulated gas program but said mandating oxygen content may no longer be the best way to ensure emission reductions and a diverse fuel supply.
"We know that some refiners can produce clean fuels without the use of oxygenates," Fisher said. "Thus, there may be better ways to achieve these goals."