GOP Energy Bill Presents Historic Threat to Environment

WASHINGTON — Dozens of provisions in the GOP energy bill agreement pending in Congress make it a historic threat to the environment, according to Environmental Working Group (EWG) President Ken Cook. None are more outrageous, however, than the historic provision that would block efforts by states, counties, a school board and even a Catholic chapel to get oil companies to clean up drinking water pollution from the toxic gasoline additive, MTBE.

The additive was known by manufacturers to leak from older gasoline storage tanks and spread quickly to drinking water supplies. However, according to internal industry documents posted at EWG’s website,, the industry promoted the government’s adoption of the additive despite the risks. Now that the industry’s own internal documents have come back to haunt it in a series of courtroom defeats, oil refiners, championed by House Majority Leader Tom Delay, have made an all-out effort to make MTBE lawsuits against them illegal.

The industry is now claiming that state governments and Congress “ordered” it to use the additive, and it has rained $70 million on lawmakers and their political parties, “with about three-fourths of it going to Republicans,” according to a recent Associated Press story using figures from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The bill also moves back the phase-out deadline of the toxic gasoline additive to December of 2014, puts the phase-out at the complete discretion of governors and the President, and it gives $2 billion to refiners for “transition assistance” in phasing out the chemical — including to refiners that have already phased it out.

“The MTBE liability waiver is a $29 billion rip-off for consumers, taxpayers and property owners. Never has so much been given to so few at the expense of so many,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “This is a complete outrage perpetrated on millions of Americans in at least 28 states to shield polluters in Texas and Louisiana,” Cook said.

Cook added: “We believe this is an unprecedented effort by Congress to reach into the courts to block litigation that is holding polluters accountable for the damages they have caused. As such, it is an incredibly dangerous precedent.”

MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, was promoted for areas with heavy smog because it speeds the burning of harmful gasoline compounds that contribute to smog.

The pollution lawsuit pre-emption would be made retroactive until September 5 of this year, affecting lawsuits filed, the states of New Hampshire, Connecticut, California and others. 

The costs of the MTBE cleanup throughout the 28 states in which it has polluted underground sources of drinking water is roughly $29 billion.

The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit research and advocacy organization that uses the power of information to protect public health and the environment.

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