Energy Bill Likely to Include Liability Protections for MTBE Makers

The makers of a gasoline additive that can contaminate groundwater will almost certainly be protected from liability issues under the terms of the nation’s energy bill, negotiators of the legislation announced yesterday. Methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, has been added to gasoline since the 1990s to reduce emissions, but it can leak from underground storage tanks, with undetermined consequences for human health. The liability protection is sought by key Republicans in the House of Representatives whose districts are home to manufacturers of MTBE. The House also wants the final energy bill to leave it up to states whether to allow or ban the additive; the Senate, by contrast, wants to establish a timetable for a national phase-out. Environmentalists want the chemical to be prohibited and oppose the liability protections, as do local officials and water system operators, who say it will cost billions to cleanup the MTBE mess.