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Federal Court Holds MTBE Polluters Responsible

Monday, May 16, 2005

Despite Tom Delay and his lapdogs recent efforts to protect MTBE polluters, a federal court ruled MTBE producers and manufacturers must pay to clean up their mess.

EnergyWashingtonWeek reported the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled to uphold several product liability cases brought by local, state and drinking water officials in 15 states against oil companies responsible for the production and distribution of MTBE. The states accuse oil companies, including ExxonMobil and BP, of knowingly contaminating ground water with MTBE.

MTBE is a gasoline additive that easily seeps into ground water. Detections of MTBE are rising sharply across the country, with contamination now found in 1,861 water systems in 29 states, serving more than 45 million Americans, up from 1,500 systems two years ago.

The federal ruling came the same day as the Capps Amendment to the Energy Bill saw a narrow loss in the House. The amendment would have stripped the polluter immunity provision that protects oil companies from MTBE lawsuits. Tom DeLay and his buddies managed to pass the energy bill with a free pass for MTBE polluters.

As the Senate starts to tackle its version of the energy bill, the ruling could sway senators with contamination in their home states. The MTBE polluter immunity provision was a deal breaker in the Senate in 2004. A vote for a polluter immunity provision could send the signal that a senator chooses oil companies over their own constituents. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), citing litigation in his own state, has vowed to use whatever means necessary to prevent the lawsuit immunity provision is included in the energy bill. However, the article cites several DC insiders who believe the ruling will only prompt MTBE polluters to put more pressure on senators to vote for the immunity provision.

With 29 states reporting MTBE pollution and 157 pending lawsuits, the debate over the polluter immunity provision will take center stage in the Senate.

See EWG's report on MTBE.

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