State Attorneys General Oppose Legal Shield for MTBE Polluters

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

WASHINGTON — In a letter to all U.S. senators, the chief legal officers of 12 states from New York to California are urging lawmakers to vote against the federal energy bill or any legislation that protects oil companies from lawsuits over drinking water contaminated with the toxic gasoline additive MTBE.

The May 27 letter from the attorneys general of Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Illinois, Wisconsin, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and California says that the energy bill passed by the House in April "would leave local taxpayers and water consumers to pay for the cleanup of contaminated drinking water wells."

"MTBE manufacturers and refiners should not obtain through lobbying what they cannot obtain under the common law of our respective states," the attorneys general wrote.

Over 1,800 water systems in 29 states are contaminated with MTBE, a potential human carcinogen whose foul odor makes water undrinkable. Although MTBE pollution is found in the home districts of 208 members of Congress, the House narrowly voted down an attempt to strike it from the bill.

The liability waiver, widely seen as a gift from House Minority Leader Tom DeLay to his oil industry donors, crushes any efforts by states and local water utilities to seek assistance with cleanup costs, leaving water consumers to foot the bill.

The Senate will debate its version of the energy bill this month. Even though the current version, which has passed the Energy Committee, does not include the MTBE polluter immunity provision, MTBE is expected to once again take center stage in floor debate and could become a potential deal breaker in the conference committee that will try to reconcile the House and Senate versions.

A copy of the letter is available on the website of Environmental Working Group, EWG's website also provides background reports and analysis of MTBE, including contamination data at the local level, House members' votes and the polluter liability shield debate in the energy bill.


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.


Communication from the Chief Legal Officers of the following states: New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin

May 27, 2005

Hon. [NAME]
United States Senate
Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Re: Opposition to MTBE Liability Shield in Energy Bill

Dear Senator [NAME]:

We urge you to oppose the liability shield provision in the energy bill or any other legislation, which grants immunity from claims that methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) or fuels containing it are defective products.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 passed by the House of Representatives on April 21, 2005 would hinder most lawsuits against MTBE manufacturers and oil companies, unless those lawsuits were filed before September 5, 2003. This would leave local taxpayers and water consumers to pay for the cleanup of contaminated drinking water wells. Morever, it would set a disturbing precedent for having Congress legislatively determine that harmful chemical compounds are not "defective." MTBE manufacturers and refiners should not obtain through lobbying what they cannot obtain under the common law of our respective states.

MTBE is readily soluble in water and migrates quickly through groundwater. Furthermore, MTBE does not easily degrade in groundwater and subsurface soils, rendering the cleanup of contamination from leaking underground storage tanks very difficult and expensive. MTBE has caused extensive contamination of groundwater across the country, forcing several public water providers to close drinking water wells. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey found that MTBE was detected in 24-36 states and in 9% of all community water supplies.

MTBE, a byproduct of petroleum refining, is dangerous to human health. MTBE is absorbed rapidly and extensively from the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of humans. Health complaints related to MTBE include headaches, dizziness, irritated eyes, burning of the nose and throat, coughing, disorientation and nausea. MTBE is known to cause cancer in animals and poses a potential cancer risk to humans.

New York State has reduced the allowable concentration of MTBE in groundwater and drinking water from 50 to 10 parts per billion; New Hampshire established a groundwater limit of 13 parts per billion of MTBE; California

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