Environmental Working Group's Response to the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association on Congress' Proposed MTBE Accountability Shield

For Immediate Release: 
Monday, April 11, 2005

(WASHINGTON) — The NPRA's propaganda about our report is painstakingly crafted to confuse the issues, but it makes one thing perfectly clear: The oil industry is desperate to get the accountability shield, and scared of the facts that have already forced them to pay more than $250 million to two California communities whose drinking water was contaminated by MTBE.

The oil industry is running from a 25 year paper trail that first surfaced in court documents, and was made public by EWG in 2002. This evidence against the oil companies includes hundreds of pages of internal industry documents showing that the industry knew as early as 1979 that MTBE posed an extraordinary threat to groundwater, aggressively promoted it to the EPA and state agencies as a safe and effective oxygenate, and ignored its own employees' warnings that continued use of the additive would make them liable for cleanup in hundreds of communities.

Our report never claimed that Tom DeLay's liability waiver would give the oil companies immunity from all lawsuits — only those holding them responsible for making and distributing an inherently defective product. But this is precisely the argument that carried the day in the two cases the industry has agreed to settle. The industry is saying: "We're not going to stop you from suing — we just want to make sure you can't win."

The NPRA cites lots of criticism of EWG from industry-funded shills like the American Council on Science and Health, which never met a chemical it thinks is harmful, and government agencies who, not surprisingly, object to EWG studies showing they're doing a poor job of protecting public health. But the NPRA can't answer this question: If court decisions are going in their favor, if MTBE contamination is trending down, and if DeLay's energy bill will make taxpayers pay for the cleanup anyway — why, exactly, does the industry want this waiver so desperately?

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