Late in 2011, a little known environmental organization, perhaps totally unknown in aviation circles, Center For Environmental Health (CEH) filed a lawsuit against “30 companies that sell and/or distribute lead-containing aviation gas (avgas) at 23 California airports, calling on the companies to provide safer alternative fuels.”
One of the odd things you will learn is the original lawsuit included the major producers of leaded avgas, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, but the settlement only included their distributors and companies that sell 100LL avgas. It appears that making leaded avgas is not an environmental hazard in California, only distributing it to airports and using it.
Since the whole objective of the lawsuit was to eliminate the use of leaded avgas sooner rather than later, what did the lawsuit accomplish?
After all, the settlement cost the defendants a sizable chunk of change for doing something that is perfectly legal, selling FAA-approved aviation fuel to aircraft owners. The practice continues to this day, unabated and unchanged, so the lawsuit did little more than increase the cost of doing business for aviation businesses, which pass it along to their customers. Little wonder GA is circling the drain.
Here is the breakdown of the visible costs: “… the settling FBOs and fuel distributors to pay a total of $550,000, of which $374,000 is apportioned to attorneys’ fees, $70,000 is allotted to the state for civil penalties, and the remaining $106,000 is a payment in lieu of civil penalties to CEH.”
There were plenty of other hidden costs over the four years of litigation. Just talk to the FBOs that were involved or read about their plight in the aviation media.
Essentially, this is the resulting agreement of the protracted litigation that cost more than half a million dollars:
- “… the fuel distributors will offer for sale the lowest-lead fuel that is commercially available in sufficient quantity.” Translation: 100VLL, which may or may not be available in California, and may or may not be sold already on most California airports. This is the conundrum of the aviation fuel industry. We have no clue what they produce, where they produce it and which product they sell on our airports. Is it 100LL or 100VLL? There is no labeling requirement.
- “The companies are also required to warn residents living within one kilometer of the airports where they operate of the lead risk, and to post warning signs at the airports.”
- “The companies will also make mogas available to FBOs that request it, subject to certain terms (eg, coverage under liability insurance) and availability.”
The purpose of my post is to focus on the third part of the agreement in the settlement, which is quite unprecedented … and, unfortunately, probably quite useless.
It recognizes that using lead free auto gasoline, the forgotten FAA-approved aviation fuel, would decrease the amount of lead spread into the environment by general aviation. Ironically, it is a viable solution that could be implemented immediately if all of the stakeholders would cooperate: Airport management, FBOs and fuel suppliers.
However, it is doubtful anything will come of it since every possible loophole was included in the agreement: FBOs have to request it (unlikely), it is subject to “terms” (all of the common ones used in the past to keep mogas off of airports), and there is the supreme hurdle, availability.
There is no known supplier of ethanol free auto fuel in California, at least no oil company willing to admit it. Otherwise, there would be ethanol free gasoline widely available for marine use, off road use and for small engines.
The only E0 supplier listed on Pure-Gas.org is Renner Petroleum in the northwest part of the state, supplying the marine industry in minuscule quantities just like the few racing fuel suppliers listed.
It has been three months since the settlement agreement was announced. Since I have seen nothing in the aviation press about California airports starting infrastructure projects to add mogas as a result of this ground-breaking settlement (pun intended), I’ve begun contacting all of the individuals who got in touch with Kent Misegades the past few years asking how to get mogas on their favorite airport in California. So far, a number of the email addresses bounced and the few replies I’ve gotten indicate continued interest as long as someone else figures out how to do it and finds a viable source of E0 in the state.
I would appreciate hearing from anyone who is actively pursuing an airport mogas project and has contacted fuel suppliers in California. It would be interesting to know what their response is considering the agreement resulting from the CEH lawsuit behooves them to make unleaded auto fuel available to general aviation in order to reduce lead pollution.
After all, it is an FAA-approved unleaded aviation fuel that can be made today and is already available on airports in many states.
Wasn’t that the objective of the lawsuit in the first place?
Note: If you were bold enough to do an Internet search as I advised above, you might have noted this extremely bizarre result of the lawsuit. If you were not one of the defendants that signed the settlement and ponied up your fine and you distribute or sell leaded avgas in California, you are potentially not off the hook: “The proposed consent judgment also has provision that would allow additional FBOs and fuel distributors to opt-in to the settlement 180 days after the consent judgment is entered. FBOs opting into the agreement will pay $7,500 for each of their California locations, while fuel distributors opting into the settlement will pay a flat $85,000.”
The clock is ticking.
As they used to say on radio newscasts: “Stay Tuned.” I plan to follow up this report with the results of my communication with airport managers, FBOs, interested pilots, perhaps a state government political aide, and a spokesperson for CEH.