Posted on Mon, Mar. 31, 2008
The Kansas City Star

KC Awaits Bluntís Waiver of Ethanol Blend Mandate

The clock is ticking on whether a new type of gasoline will add pollution to Kansas Cityís air, local air quality officials say.

For two years, they have been asking Missouri's governor for a waiver from a state law that requires an ethanol blend of gasoline to be used at most pumps in Missouri.

And with the ozone season starting today, they still have not heard from the governor.

"The governor has said he will work with us, but he is not," said James Joerke, Mid-America Regional Council's air quality program manager.

Gov. Matt Blunt's office had said he will make a decision, and soon. Still, he has not returned several telephone requests by local officials to discuss the waiver in recent weeks.

The issue:

The E10 blend, as it is known, is touted as a way to decrease America's dependence on foreign oil. The corn fuel also means money in the pockets of corn growers.

But E10 creates more smog than standard gasoline, something the Kansas City area does not need more of when ozone season begins April 1. That is when the sun begins cooking up pollutants.

"In a nutshell, E10 is helpful in reducing petroleum consumption, but it is not helpful in terms of ground-level ozone," said Ed Peterson, Johnson County commissioner and co-chairman of MARC's Air Quality Forum. "It is the health concerns of the community that we are working to solve here."

A state law passed last year requiring the use of E10 says only the governor can waive a mandate to use the 10 percent ethanol blend. St. Louis has been granted a waiver.

Area officials do not understand why the governor has not granted a waiver for the Kansas City area, especially because it violated the federal Clean Air Act three times last year. The number of violations is expected to greatly increase this summer because of stricter ozone rules the Environmental Protection Agency is implementing.

A spokesman for the governor said Blunt is still mulling the decision.

"We have received their request, and it is under consideration," Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. "We have been working with appropriate agencies, including DNR (the Department of Natural Resources), to finalize a decision before the weather becomes a factor and a decision will be made in ample time to avoid any potential negative implications."

Time is growing short to make contracts with oil companies and refineries for the special low-volatility fuel blend Kansas City has used since the 1990s to reduce emissions, officials said.

By June 1, the worst part of the ozone season will be upon the area.

"It's getting too late," said Susan Brown, a member of MARC's Air Quality Forum, which reviews regional air quality issues and makes policy recommendations to Missouri and Kansas.

In 2006, Joerke sent his first letter to Blunt expressing concerns about the governorís promotion of widespread use of ethanol.

The result of mandating E10 use in Missouri "would be dirtier, less healthy air, and a greater risk of federal air quality violations each summer," Joerke wrote.

In a second letter written March 7, Joerke said Blunt and Kansas City area legislators gave MARC officials strong assurances that a waiver would come in time to avoid additional E10 pollution.

Unless a waiver comes through, Joerke said there is nothing more regional officials can do.

To reach Karen Dillon, call 816-234-4430 or send e-mail to kdillon@kcstar.com.

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