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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

MTBE: Making it Local

Posted by: Hammer / 8:42 AM

Via Think Progress and Bob Harris, we come across this Boston Globe story:
A company largely owned by the Saudi government has spent more than $1.5 million since 1998 lobbying Congress to shield the chemical industry from liability for damages caused by MTBE, a potentially cancer-causing gasoline additive that has seeped into water supplies across New England, according to federal documents.

The chemical additive is widely used, particularly in the Northeast, to help gasoline burn more efficiently and meet standards set by the Clean Air Act. But when it gets into drinking water, MTBE is suspected of causing cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency....

DeLay is the chief proponent of a provision in the sweeping federal energy bill to relieve the MTBE industry of most liability for cleanup; the item led most New England lawmakers to vote against the measure last year, preventing Senate passage of the bill. DeLay won a fight to include the provision in the new energy bill that passed the House last month, but the Senate has yet to act on it....

Several US companies that make or use MTBE have been lobbying heavily for a limit on their liability to clean up contaminated water. Environmentalists say the cleanup cost could total $29 billion, but industry and other officials say the cost is closer to $8 billion.

MTBE gets into the groundwater from leaking underground storage tanks (LUSTs). In Minnesota, the action level is 70 parts per billion. That is (as near as I can tell), if the MTBE in the drinking water exceeds 70 parts per billion, the state requires clean up. The level might just be a guideline. Minnesotans are willing to drink 16% more MTBE than Wisconsinites and twice as much as North Dakotans, Pennsylvanians, and Rhode Islanders:

In April the House passed its Energy Policy Act of 2005:

The bill includes $12 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for energy companies, more than the Bush administration said it wanted. Nevertheless the White House strongly endorsed the measure....

Contentious issues during debate involved the gasoline additive, MTBE. The bill calls for shielding MTBE makers from product liability lawsuits stemming from contamination of drinking water supplies. Democrats warned the liability waiver would leave the public with billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

An attempt by Rep. Lois Capps, D-California, to strip the MTBE assistance from the energy bill was defeated, 219-213....

The bill also calls for phasing out MTBE use by the end of 2014 -- longer than MTBE critics say is necessary -- and would provide $2 billion over eight years to help the manufacturers shift away from making the additive.

John Kline, Mark Kennedy, and Gil Gutknecht voted in favor of the bill. Kline, Kennedy, and Gutknecht voted against the Capps amendment (technically, Capps offered a motion to strike, rather than amend, which makes the roll call vote a bit more difficult to find).

Making it local: John Kline, Mark Kennedy, and Gil Gutknecht voted to put Saudi interests ahead of Minnesotans. Saudi oil producers won't have to pay a dime to clean up MTBE in the gasoline they sell us, yet Minnesotans will be asked to drink water chock-full of carcinogens for 9 more years. Whose side are these guys on?


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