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Wisconsin Sues EPA Over High Gas Prices
Fair Use Statement

Source: ENN News

Wisconsin Sues EPA Over High Gas Prices

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, June 30, 2000 (ENS) - Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and state lawmakers have filed a legal petition asking a judge to review the federal requirement for cleaner burning gasoline in the state. The suit is the latest move by Midwestern legislators angered by rising gasoline prices in the region.

In a three paragraph legal petition filed in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Wisconsin argues that "extreme prices" - far above those found elsewhere in the U.S. - raise questions about the "economic, scientific, environmental and regulatory bases" for the clean gas regulations.

A Clean Air Act rule that took effect June 1 requires the sale of reformulated gasoline (RFG) supplemented with ethanol in several smoggy Midwestern regions, including Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This new version of RFG burns more cleanly than older versions using other additives, reducing tailpipe emissions that lead to smog and other environmental problems.

Since June 1, prices have risen sharply in Milwaukee, Chicago, Illinois and other areas.

"Today, for the first time in Wisconsin's history, one house of the Legislature is suing the federal government on behalf of our families," said Scott Jensen, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker. "Sadly, we have no other choice. The Environmental Protection Agency has refused to listen to the nation's scientists and economists. They have refused to listen to our state's elected representatives. And they have refused to listen to the families of southeastern Wisconsin who have struggled to pay these high gas prices."

The EPA maintains that the gas prices are independent of the RFG requirement. EPA Administrator Carol Browner has said she is unwilling to grant a temporary waiver to any state based on rising prices. The agency is continuing to investigate the reasons for the price hike.

"We know from our initial investigation that the problem does not stem from reformulated gasoline," said EPA spokesperson Dave Cohen.

Wisconsin argues that events since the EPA’s regulations were adopted, including price hikes, pipeline problems and unexpected patent royalties on the newly formulated fuel, change the situation enough to warrant a reopening of the RFG rulemaking process.

"The facts as they stand today do not justify the EPA's RFG rules and clearly outline a credible challenge to these regulations," said Representative Steve Foti, Majority Leader of the Wisconsin Assembly.

The state’s petition asks the appeals court to order EPA to reopen the rules for review. Because EPA is likely to get a 30 day to 60 day period to respond to the petition, it is unlikely that the petition will have an immediate impact on gas prices, regardless of the outcome in court.

Wisconsin residents want results now. More that 15,000 state citizens submitted letters, faxes and email messages supporting the state’s case, and these documents were filed along with the petition.

"These families are asking for cheaper, cleaner gas that won't burden their family budgets," Jensen said. "The EPA required our families to use an additive and a manufacturing process that turned out to be much more expensive than projected."

In the Milwaukee-Chicago corridor, gas prices have risen by as much as 50 cents a gallon. The average price for a gallon of gas across Wisconsin this week was $1.86, about 18 cents higher than the national average, according to the American Automobile Association.

Neighboring states are also taking steps to deal with rising gas prices. In Indiana, Governor Frank O'Bannon, a Democrat, has suspended the state’s five percent gasoline sales tax, effective July 1, for up to 60 days to give residents of his state some relief. On Wednesday, the governors of Wisconsin and Illinois testified before Congress that there states need immediate relief from high gas prices.

Governor Thompson, a Republican, told the House Judiciary Committee that he blames the Clinton administration's "overbearing environmental policies" for rising prices.

"This is a problem borne of the federal government," Thompson said, "a problem that must be solved by the federal government. The administration has refused to give us any relief."

"If Carol Browner would simply give us a waiver for the two months left of summer, drivers would see at least a quarter off the price of gas immediately," Thompson said.

Illinois Governor George Ryan, a Republican, joined Thompson in asking the EPA for a temporary waiver from RFG rules.

In testimony Wednesday before the House Commerce Committee, EPA Administrator Browner said again that RFG is not to blame for higher gas prices. "We know that the cleaner burning gasoline is not the problem. We know ethanol is not the problem," said Browner. "It's got to be something else."

Browner charged that wholesale gasoline prices began falling after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was asked to investigate possible price gouging. But FTC official Richard Parker testified that no evidence has been found yet of price fixing by oil companies.

"I have no evidence as I sit here today of collusion," said Parker.

Browner also pointed out the air quality benefits of the RFG rules, noting that the Clean Air Act requirement has resulted in annual reductions of smog-forming pollutants equivalent to removing 16 million cars from the road.

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