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Will DeLay Allow 112 House Members With MTBE Tap Water Contamination A Vote To Protect Their Constituents?

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, April 18, 2005

A SHOWDOWN TUESDAY IN THE RULES COMMITTEE

House Republicans Are Expected To Block Amendments That Would Strip Their Polluter Immunity Provision From Energy Bill

(WASHINGTON, April 18) — It has become the most contentious part of the sprawling energy bill that the House of Representatives will consider for two days later this week. But if Republican leaders have their way, House members won't have a chance to vote on it.

At issue is a provision that would make manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE immune from a rising tide of product liability lawsuits brought by dozens of local communities—and the entire State of New Hampshire--to make polluters pay for contaminated tap water supplies.

But when the House Rules committee meets on Tuesday, Republicans are expected to block attempts to allow floor consideration of any amendment that would strip the polluter immunity provision from the energy bill. The liability shield is a top priority of oil companies, and of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, whose districts are home to many of the MTBE manufacturers.

The stakes are high for at least 112 House members whose districts have drinking water systems with MTBE contamination and who voted in favor an energy bill that contained the liability shield in 2003. Twenty-six members who voted for the same bill—21 Republicans and 5 Democrats—are in a particularly difficult position. They have ongoing lawsuits against MTBE manufacturers in their districts that would be thrown out by the DeLay-Barton polluter immunity provision.

"The big question is, will House Republicans bow to the wishes of Tom DeLay and accept this outrageous gift to his oil refiners?" said Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund president Ken Cook. "Or will they stand by their own communities to protect them from the huge expense of keeping their tap water free of MTBE?"

The MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether, a toxic gasoline additive) pollution immunity provision was so controversial it killed last year's energy bill, and new data could save the bill while killing the provision--if Members are given a chance to vote. Twenty-six Members of Congress who voted last year for the energy bill and with Big Oil represent communities who are suing Big Oil for help with cleanup of the slick substance. If the bill were to pass with the cleanup waiver that Big Oil so desperately wants, residents will see higher water bills because water utilities will be forced to pass along the cleanup costs.

"Local water utilities that serve over 20 million people in 29 states have taken MTBE out of drinking water before it reaches family faucets," said Cook. "If Congress doesn't drop this proposal, then Big Oil won't have pay to clean up the mess they put in our drinking water and American families will have to foot the bill."

Just a few drops of MTBE make water undrinkable. Documents available athttp://www.ewg.org/reports/withknowledge/index.php prove that Big Oil lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decades ago to add this waste product to gasoline, knowing all the while that the substance would leak out of storage tanks and into drinking water supplies. Now, over 20 million people in 112 congressional districts have drinking water that has been polluted with MTBE, and Big Oil is pressuring DeLay for cleanup immunity.

The list of 26 Members whose communities are suing Big Oil over MTBE pollution is here: http://www.ewg.org/reports/oilandwater/execsumm.php

The list of 29 states and 86 Members whose districts have MTBE pollution but not lawsuits is here: http://www.ewg.org/reports/oilandwater/part2.php

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EWG Action Fund is a legislative advocacy organization that is related to EWG. EWG and EWG Action Fund use the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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