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Green gas hits state snag

Submitted by on 1, November 14, 2008 – 2:00 pmNo Comment

Here’s an interesting tidbit we picked up at last week’s council meeting: The new Safeway gas station at Towne Center is slated to offer biodiesel. One little snag, though: The state has apparently put the kibosh on the underground tanks Safeway installed to store the stuff.

According to the city officials we spoke with, generally accepted practice in California had been to allow 5 to 20 percent biodiesel blends (which can be used in most cars) to be stored in equipment that met existing standards for conventional diesel. So Safeway installed the equipment the company has used to store and pump the fuel elsewhere, according to a letter an attorney for the grocery chain sent to the city late last month.

But this past February, the State Water Resources Control Board wrote to agencies that regulate fuel storage tanks to let them know they can’t legally allow the use of diesel equipment to store and sell biodiesel anymore, because the water board determined that biodiesel is a hazardous substance (and hey, who wants another MTBE scare?). So equipment set up to store and sell the fuels has to be certified specifically to handle it. Except those certification standards don’t exist.

A bill that would have allowed a three-year grace period for storage of biodiesel blends and established interim standards while Underwriters Laboratory or a similar outfit drafts standards passed the state Legislature but was vetoed by the governor. So now, the project and others like it are in limbo.

A water board spokesman told us that the state doesn’t regulate the tanks at this point and that this is a federal issue. Spokesman Dave Clegern said that based on federal law, it is not legal to store biodiesel in underground tanks, though an analysis of the tank bill says California can regulate it (see the top of page 2, and if you’re interested in this topic, the whole document is worth a read).

Nevertheless, Clegern said the board is working on some “guidance” for California that he said will hopefully be available by the end of the year.

We didn’t hear back from the Safeway spokesperson we contacted, but in their letter to the city, Safeway’s attorneys said they are committed to selling biodiesel at the site as soon as it’s legal to do so.

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