(UPI)--A lobbyist group for corn farmers lambasted California Gov. Gray Davis March 18 for his decision to delay a ban on the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, which is polluting groundwater.

The National Corn Growers Association--based in St. Louis, MO--said it believes Davis was wrong when he announced March 15 a one-year delay in the MTBE, which had been set to take effect Jan. 1, 2003.

Davis said last week he was afraid gasoline prices would shoot up to about three dollars per gallon if the ban took effect as originally scheduled, a view shared by groups such as the California Energy Commission.

But agriculture interests say such a view is "unwarranted" and also harmful to the promotion of ethanol--a corn-based motor fuel--as an alternative.

"This view illustrates the complete lack of knowledge of the ethanol market and the U.S. transportation system in California government," corn association President Tim Hume said.

Hume cited Midwest cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Louis where ethanol-blend fuels are used without causing excessive hikes in gasoline prices.

"There is no economic rationale that supports Governor Davis assertion that using ethanol will increase gasoline prices in California," Hume said.

"The supply is there, and there is adequate transportation to deliver ethanol to the California market."

But Davis was skeptical. He said the state needs a longer time period to build up a supply of ethanol-blend fuel to prevent a fuel shortage.

The bulk of ethanol comes from Midwest corn and agriculture interests dislike anything that discourages ethanol because it reduces the markets available for corn farmers.

Last week, Davis said he does not like the idea of putting his state at the mercy of the Midwest.

"I am not going to allow Californians to be held hostage by another out-of-state energy cartel," he said.

The California Energy Commission last week called for a three-year delay on banning MTBE but Davis said he thinks one year will be sufficient for the state to develop the infrastructure needed to comply.

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