A Dirty Little Footnote to the Energy Bill ( By ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, Published: April 15, 2005, NYTIMES.COM)
This article concerns itself with a gasoline additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The additive is the subject of a lot of support in Congress, partly because it is made from methanol, derived from Corn, hence it ends up lining the pockets of midwestern farmers, who then vote for the congresscritters.
What’s happening is that MTBE is showing up in the water supplies. But then we’ve known that for a long time in California.
The question is who will pay for the cleanup. United Water, a subsidiary of Suez S.A., has sued the manufacturers of MTBE to recover its costs. And as hundreds of communities from coast to coast are finding the additive in their water systems, the issue of paying for the cleanup is becoming increasingly contentious.
If oil and chemical companies have their way, a majority of lawsuits like United Water’s will be thrown out by Congress as part of the energy bill backed by the Bush administration. The bill, which won easy approval from the House Energy and Commerce Committee late Wednesday, includes a waiver that would protect the chemical makers, which are some of the biggest oil giants in the United States, from all MTBE liability lawsuits filed since September 2003.
The House majority leader, Tom DeLay, and Representative Joe L. Barton, who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, are staunch supporters of the waiver. Both are Republicans from Texas, where more than a dozen MTBE manufacturers are based.
…Mr. Henning sees a painful paradox in the situation. Nearly two decades ago, the oil companies were asked to find a gasoline additive that would help cut air pollution. “They were attempting to do the right thing,” he said. “But they left an oil spill, an invisible oil spill under the ground. Now they are trying to hide behind Congress rather than deal with the issue.”
MTBE is made by blending methanol and a byproduct of gasoline refining, and has been in use since 1979, originally as a replacement for lead to raise gasoline octane ratings. Since 1990, it has been used in gasoline as an oxygenate, or oxygen enhancer, that reduces carbon monoxide emissions from cars.
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