EPA retreats; media hardly notices

Published September 1, 2000

Despite devoting thousands of page one headlines and countless feature stories to “soaring gasoline prices” and Clinton-Gore administration claims of price gouging by oil companies, the nation’s print media paid scant attention to EPA’s admission that its own policies were to blame for the price hikes.

After insisting for weeks that its new regulations for reformulated gasoline had nothing to do with higher prices and restricted supplies in the Chicago area, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has quietly moved to make it easier for refiners to produce the new fuel.

Using a now-familiar Clinton-Gore tactic of making admissions on Fridays to minimize press coverage, EPA Administrator Carol Browner signed the statement late in the afternoon of Friday, June 30, just 30 days after EPA’s new Tier II rules went into effect.

In Browner’s notice of rulemaking, EPA proposed relaxing some pollution standards, a move that could increase gasoline supplies and lower prices at the pump. Moreover, the notice indicated “EPA also solicits comments on adjustment or elimination of the minimum oxygen requirement.”

Last fall, the National Research Council issued a report concluding that oxygenates such as ethanol and methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) have virtually no effect on air quality. In July, Michigan Governor John Engler signed into law a bill introduced by Representative Larry Julian to eliminate MTBE by June 1, 2003. The governor’s action put into place the earliest phase-out of the water-polluting additive in the nation.