October 14, 2003
We, the undersigned, strongly urge you to do everything in your power, including filibuster if necessary, to stop an energy bill conference report that includes a provision that would shield oil and chemical companies from liability for contaminating drinking water across the country with the gas additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether).
MTBE producers and refiners had extensive knowledge of the toxicity and mobility of MTBE in groundwater yet voluntarily used it as an additive in conventional and reformulated gasoline for decades without alerting their customers, the public, or Congress of the potential hazards. Granting corporate polluters protection from legal claims that past and future MTBE use creates a fuel that is "defective in design or manufacture" poses unprecedented environmental and public health risks because it eliminates a key legal theory requiring cleanup of MTBE contamination. Defective product claims should be fairly decided by courts, not exempted by Congress to protect special interests. Local taxpayers and drinking water ratepayers should not have to bear financial responsibility for cleaning up MTBE problems that they did not cause. According to a September 2003 Zogby poll, Americans believe, by a margin of 86-8%, that oil and chemical companies should be held responsible for paying to cleanup their MTBE contamination.
Known and Potential MTBE Hazards
MTBE is a toxic and highly persistent chemical that has been added to gasoline since the late 1970s. U.S. Geological Survey experts estimate that there may be 250,000 leaking underground storage tank releases of MTBE. Pipeline releases, gas spills, and other sources also contaminate groundwater and surface water with MTBE. MTBE spreads rapidly in water and often pollutes nearby properties or water supply wells.
MTBE poses a serious threat to the underground aquifers that supply half of the nations drinking water. A July 2003 U.S. Geological Survey found MTBE in 86% of wells sampled in industrial areas nationwide, 31% in commercial areas, 23% in residential areas, and 23% in areas with mixed urban land use, parks, and recreation areas. In March of 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stated, "The use of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) in our nations fuel supply has created a significant and unacceptable risk to drinking water and ground water resources."
Enormous MTBE Cleanup Costs
The estimated cost of cleaning up MTBE contamination nationwide is $30 billion and growing. Supply wells or reservoirs polluted with MTBE can require treatment systems that cost millions of dollars in capital construction costs and tens of millions of dollars in long-term operation and maintenance costs. Cleaning up one gas stations MTBE problems can cost more than a million dollars. It would be an enormous financial burden for affected communities to bear these costs. Polluters, not taxpayers or the victims of pollution, should pay for the damages caused by their products.
We strongly urge you to use every tool at your disposal to ensure that the oil and chemical industries remain fully liable for contaminating the nations water supply with MTBE.
U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Resource Conservation Alliance
American Lung Association
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN)
Center for Auto Safety
Center for Food Safety
Center for Health, Environment and Justice
Center for Justice and Democracy
Clean Water Action Project
Consumer Federation of America
Defenders of Wildlife
Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Environmental & Energy Study Institute
Environmental Working Group
Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights
Friends of the Earth
International Center for Technology Assessment
League of Conservation Voters
Natural Resources Defense Council
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Union of Concerned Scientists