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Twenty-Six House Members Voted For DeLay's MTBE Lawsuit Immunity Bill Despite Contamination In Their Districts

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, April 6, 2005

VOTE WOULD THROW OUT LOCAL WATER UTILITIES' LAWSUITS TO CLEAN UP GASOLINE ADDITIVE IN DRINKING WATER

As MTBE Pollution Figures Rise, So Do Political Stakes

(WASHINGTON) — In a move designed to please big oil companies, 26 Members of Congress voted in late 2003 to stop their own communities from being able to sue oil companies for polluting their drinking water with a toxic gasoline additive called MTBE. Since that vote, communities in each of those districts have filed suit for help with cleanup, and if Members vote again this year with Big Oil they will be voting away their constituents' right to sue. 

In all, 112 Members of Congress who voted for last year's energy bill, with a provision shielding big oil companies from MTBE cleanup costs and effectively ending lawsuits, have water utilities in their districts that face pollution. Twenty-six of those members have communities in their districts suing to force polluters to pay for cleanup; 86 additional members who voted to shield oil companies have MTBE contamination in their districts, but no lawsuits yet.

Richard Wiles of Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund, which compiled the data, said, "Tom DeLay has made protecting Big Oil from the cost of MTBE cleanup a top priority in the energy bill. Will members continue to do as Delay wants, and vote against their own constituents, or will they stand up for the people they represent and allow municipalities to pursue MTBE cleanup from the oil companies that polluted their tap water?"

Just a few drops of MTBE, which stands for methyl tertiary butyl ether, make water undrinkable. Because it is so foul, water providers remove MTBE before it reaches family faucets — and the question of who should bear those costs sits in the hands of the 112 Members who voted against their communities last year.

According to industry documents, MTBE was a refinery waste product that Big Oil representatives found a way to make profitable. Oil companies knew that MTBE is an especially slick chemical that would leak from storage tanks and pollute water supplies, but they lobbied the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use it in gasoline. Today, Big Oil seeks exemption from liability by claiming their hand was forced.

These previously released documents and a newly released Commerce Committee memo prove that Big Oil representatives aggressively lobbied to put MTBE in gasoline, and that the EPA did not state a preference for MTBE over other gasoline additives.

EWG Action Fund's website, http://www.ewg.org, lists the Members' districts — including number of water drinkers and utilities affected and where there are lawsuits — for all 112 House Members who voted with Big Oil last year. The site also features documents disproving Big Oil claims of having been forced to add MTBE to gasoline.

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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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