Lawsuit shield for MTBE makers dropped from energy bill

One of the last remaining roadblocks to the passage of the energy bill has reportedly been removed: According to Senate Energy Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a provision to shield manufacturers of groundwater-polluting fuel additive MTBE from lawsuits has been dropped from the bill. A similar measure torpedoed a federal energy bill in 2003, when House advocates of the liability shield — led by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) — proved intransigent. (The fact that the shield is being jettisoned this year is seen by some as a sign that DeLay’s legendary power is waning.) The oil industry attempted to preserve the measure by offering up $2 billion late last week for a cleanup fund, but senators rejected that plan. With the issue threatening to sink the entire energy bill — which is widely expected to include a plethora of domestic dirty-power subsidies, plus some stabs at conservation and clean energy — President Bush reportedly called top congressional negotiators on Sunday and told them to get things moving.