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Attorney General Lockyer Wins Protections for Lake Tahoe

Independent Action Sustains Jet Ski Ban to Prevent MTBE Pollution
Wednesday, March 24, 1999
Contact: (415) 703-5837

Attorney General Bill Lockyer announced today approval of a federal lawsuit settlement which will protect Lake Tahoe from polluting watercraft such as most jet skis currently on the market. Lockyer, in one of his first official acts as Attorney General, took independent action to defend the ban of most boats in Lake Tahoe using carburated two-cycle engines starting June 1, 1999.

The ban challenged by watercraft manufacturers had been adopted in June 1997 by TRPA to curb pollution of the lake by methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). Considered a possible carcinogen, MTBE is a gasoline additive used since 1996 to cut smog and carbon monoxide which has been found in Lake Tahoe and other California lakes.

In addition to the Attorney General, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) approved the settlement with watercraft manufacturers.

"This settlement will stop the discharge of thousands of gallons of MTBE and other dangerous pollutants each year into Lake Tahoe and protect the crown jewel of the Sierra," Lockyer said. "It will limit water pollution from personal watercraft that discharge 25 percent of their fuel unburned into the lake. This is a victory for the protection of public health and a precious national treasure."

After intervening in the lawsuit last month, Lockyer took steps to stop an earlier proposed settlement between TRPA and the watercraft manufacturers that would have allowed limited exceptions to the ban without mitigating their impacts. The exceptions included allowing engines under 10 horsepower and so-called EPA 2001 engines to continue operating for three years. EPA 2001 engines are considered significantly cleaner than most current engines but not as clean as those TRPA would permit under its rules.

Under the settlement, the ban on most two-stroke engines would take effect as scheduled June 1. Watercraft manufacturers also agreed to significant enforcement and educational provisions that include providing two engines for a speed boat to help TRPA enforce the ban. Additional provisions will help remove enough additional polluting craft from Lake Tahoe to offset the impacts of allowing specified watercraft to operate for three years. The manufacturers also agreed to dismiss their federal lawsuit "with prejudice" to block new lawsuits challenging the ban.

On January 5, as one of this first acts as Attorney General, Lockyer filed papers asking to intervene in the federal lawsuit in order to defend the pending ban. The following week, the Nevada attorney general filed a similar petition. On February 19, Lockyer appeared in federal court in Sacramento to personally ask to intervene in the case and U.S. District Court Judge Frank C. Damrell, Jr. granted the request.

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