Tuesday, July 19, 2005

MTBE in the Energy Bill

The House and Senate are currently working on a "compromise" bill that will eliminate the differences between the House and Senate versions passed earlier this year. A major issue deals with the gasoline additive MTBE. The House of Representatives passed its version including a provision protecting Oil producers from liability lawsuits related to pollution caused by the additive MTBE. The Senate version contains no such protections. MTBE was originally added to gasoline in 1979, replacing lead to reduce engine "knocking" and allow engines to run more efficiently. The problem with MTBE is that it has escaped from underground storage tanks and contaminated water supplies in at least 29 states, and it is considered a likely carcinogen.

The compromise bill promises to be a contentious one, though Senate members indicate that the bill will not pass with the MTBE protection. The issue in the House, according to the National Review (an unlikely reference for me, but there you go), is that MTBE manufacturers shouldn’t be held liable for the cleanup because

a) They did not install the leaky storage tanks, and
b) MTBE usage increased due to Congressional mandates in the 1990 Clean Air Act.

Both of these points ignore the fact that the producers had to know that MTBE is a pollutant and a danger to the public waterways, had to know that some gasoline storage tanks might just leak some day, and had to know that there were other (less dangerous/more expensive) oxygenates available to comply with the 1990 Act. They also ignore the fact that the MTBE producers earned massive profits by introducing a dangerous product to the enviornment. Why should they be allowed all of the profits while somebody else cleans up the unfortunate side effects of their product? As I write in the Air Blog's sister post to this one, civic responsibilty should not be an afterthought in the pursuit of profits. Let's not allow it to be.

I encourage everybody to contact their Congresspeople, particularly those in the House of Representatives, in support of deleting the MTBE non-liability provisions. While you're add it, see if you can kill the drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, too. It's bad enough that the bill will likely pass with further subsidies to environmentally-unfriendly energy sources (oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear), minimal support for sustainable energy industries, and hardly a mention of conservation; protecting known polluters from facing the consequences of thier actions is a slap in the face to us all. MTBE should be outlawed altogether, allowing its use to continue with no liability when it causes harm is unfathomable.


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