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Dr. Bill Wattenburg’s testimony to the Calif. Legislature on MTBE

Statement to the California State Legislature Assembly Budget Subcommittee 3

Howard Kaloogian, Chairman
by Dr. Bill Wattenburg
4/30/96

The present vulgar gas prices are cruel punishment of Californians for trusting the State government and supporting environmental programs. The Calif. Air Resources Board (CARB) bureaucracy with its typical arrogance and incompetence added insult to injury by demanding immediate conversion to its new reformulated gasoline at the worst possible time. CARB could have phased in the new gasoline over a year period to avoid the disruption of the market and prevent speculators from running up prices. But worse yet, the gas price insult may be just the tip of the shaft.

Alarming reports are coming in from all segments of the driving public that the new gasoline has reduced mileage in newer cars by 10% to 15%. This is five to eight times the mileage reduction that CARB promised. CARB told the Legislature, public and the press that good scientific tests were done to verify that mileage reductions “will be no more than one-half mile per gallon.“ This means 1½%–2½% reduction for newer cars. How can anyone explain the 10%–15% reductions being reported by honest motorists and businesses? The reason for these reports must be determined immediately.

If motorists must buy and burn 10% to 15% more of this more-expensive gas to go the same distance, then they are being forced to put 10% to 15% more pollutants back in the air. This completely cancels the purported 15% reduction in pollutants per gallon burned, as claimed by CARB.

In fact, if average mileage reduction for all motorists is even 5%, this reformulated gasoline will be the biggest fraud on the public since the savings and loan scandals because of the small benefits gained for the enormous cost to the citizens of this state and the forced burning of greater amounts of imported oil.

What must be done? First, the Governor and the Legislature must demand that the new gasoline be phased in over the next six months or year, and not 100% by June 1. Then the Governor and the Legislature must order an immediate independent scientific assessment of the actual mileage reduction being experienced by California vehicles on the road. This can be done very quickly by scientists from the University of California and our research laboratories. There is no federal EPA requirement for conversion to this reformulated gasoline until the year 2000. Motorists must not be forced to use it until it is proven to be a significant environmental improvement worth billions of dollars that will be taken from their family budgets every year.

Fortunately, both private companies that operate large fleets of vehicles and individual motorists can provide the data that will tell us the truth about mileage with new gasoline. No one is going to keep this a secret from the voting public. God help the Legislature at the next election if this gasoline is forced on all California motorists by June 1 and the actual mileage reduction figures are much worse than CARB has promised. Legislators had better listen to their constituents who are already insulted and properly irate.

Over 5 million Californians pay dues to the California State Automobile Association. CAA operates a fleet of over 100 cars. CAA for example, can provide the mileage comparison for this new gas that the public and the press must have as soon as possible. It is fitting and proper that CAA should render this service to the millions of motorists that it represents. CAA members should call the association and request that CAA’s mileage data be made public as soon as possible.

CARB bureaucrats committed exactly this same sort of abuse of public trust three years ago while lying to the Legislature, the press, and the public about their own concoction of poison diesel fuel that they forced on the State overnight. Newspapers eventually had to editorialize the truth and report the damage done to the public after they had published the earlier propaganda lies from CARB. The Legislature had to pay out millions of taxpayer dollars to pay for damaged vehicles.

But the Governor and the Legislature let their political friends at CARB continue on the payroll. CARB bureaucrats continue to justify everything they do in the name of the environment, no matter how economically stupid and environmentally damaging their ignorance and actions may turn out to be.

Some Background, Observations and Opinions:

Legislative committees investigating this scandal had better put all witnesses from CARB, its paid consultants and the oil companies under oath and then demand the full truth tight now—including all the conflicting technical reports in the CARB files that CARB did not reveal to the Legislature or the press.

I was shocked to discover just last week that the contrived mileage tests done by CARB did not use the actual gasoline that motorists are forced to buy from the refineries today. Most significantly, the oil companies will make no promises for mileage as compared to the older gasoline. Their position is that they are simply producing the reformulated gas demanded by CARB.

Anonymous insiders are reporting that CARB has had on file reports from Federal Express and the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources which report serious mileage reductions with Federal EPA specified reformulated gas when these entities tested the gasoline in their fleets in 1995. This must be looked into. It would be criminal if CARB concealed such information while telling the California public that mileage reductions would be much less. CARB knows that the reformulated gas that it has specified for California can be expected to reduce mileage more than the federal EPA version of reformulated gas that was tested.

Some refineries are still producing the perfectly good old (normal) gasoline. The old and new gas can be mixed in any proportions required. This is the only way to insure adequate supplies of gasoline to Californians at fair prices for the near future. The refiners of the new gas will get paid. Other suppliers will have to buy the new gas from them. CARB and the some of the refiners will probably say gradual conversion can’t be done because they have been scratching each other’s backs. But some plant engineers within the refineries say this can be done easily.

The feeble excuse that California had to make this conversion immediately or face sanctions from the federal EPA is absurd on its face. Does anyone believe that California would be punished by the present White House before the election next November? The next six months would be plenty of time to phase in the new reformulated gasoline—and to make sure that it actually is the environmental improvement that CARB represents.

Representatives of the gasoline suppliers warned CARB that they should phase in the conversion and that there would be outrageous price increases if they didn’t. But CARB again ignored the advice of experts and then lied to the Legislature with assurances that there would be only about a ten cent increase in pump prices. CARB was beholden to the oil refiners who had converted their equipment at great expense and wanted to start getting their money back with immediate conversion to the new gasoline. Also, insiders say that CARB and the environmental lobby worried that the public might lose enthusiasm for the new gasoline it it had a chance to compare the old and new gasolines over a period of time.

A gasoline marketing expert suggested to me that there had been recent conversations between CARB bureaucrats and oil company executives in which they both acknowledged that gas prices would skyrocket in April and that $2.00 a gallon price scares were not necessarily bad because it would condition the public to the higher prices that are going to persist forever with the newer gasoline—in other words, the public would sigh relief when prices come down under $1.50 a gallon and CARB and the oil companies would not receive so much flak.

An alarming revelation came about this week when a representative from Pacific Telephone stated the Pacific Telephone engineers did not study or record the mileage figures for their vehicles that were used in the CARB test of the new gasoline. They said that CARB officials took care of this! This means that there was no independent comparison or verification of mileage figures for these vehicles burning the questionable gasoline CARB supplied.

All the press printed the CARB press releases and mileage claims without questioning the validity of the CARB tests or even looking at conflicting reports on file at CARB.

The most respected scientists from MIT, Cal Tech, U.C., and government laboratories have reported (SCIENCE, 2 July 1993, p 37) that previous government air pollution reduction programs seldom have achieved 50% of the promises. This means that the actual reduction in air pollution, and waste billions of dollars of our state economy that could go toward beneficial programs.

You must remember the massive fraud on the public that was recently disclosed when the State Senate finally ordered a scientific review of the so-called leaking underground fuel tank threat by University of California scientists. The activities of another bloated State bureaucracy, the State Water Quality Control Board (SWQCB), have guaranteed that the big oil companies would have a monopoly in California and that prices would soar because it, SWQCB, systematically wiped out—bankrupted—most of the small service stations in California by claiming that leaking underground fuel tanks were contaminating our water supplies and that this threat justified any amount of expense. However, scientists at the University of California in a published report recently confirmed that not even one percent of this purported threat to ground water ever existed. Our Legislature waited twelve years to learn the truth. By that time, several billion dollars had been wasted, thousands of small businesses and service stations bankrupted, and over a hundred fifty thousand jobs wiped out for the wage-earners who found employment businesses.

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