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Mayors, County Officials, Water System Executives Critcize Energy Bill's Liability Immunity for MTBE Industry


Burden of Cleanup Shifted to Local Tax-Payers


Washington, D.C. - Today, a large coalition of organizations representing mayors, city council members, county officials, water system executives and public works directors are extremely disappointed that Congress is on the verge of enacting an energy bill - H.R. 6 - that would provide liability immunity to the producers of gasoline containing the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), which has contaminated the drinking water of hundreds of communities across the United States.   Experts estimate this cost will be more than $29 billion nationwide.


The coalition urges Congress to strip the liability protection from the bill.


"The nation's mayors are very concerned with the tremendous financial burden that will be placed on local governments to clean up drinking water supplies that have been contaminated by MTBE," said Mayor James A. Garner, President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.   "Passage of this provision will put the costs of pollution cleanup on local tax payers rather than the polluters.   If enacted, this has the potential to be the largest unfunded mandate passed down from Congress to local governments."  


MTBE is a fuel additive for gasoline that helps improve air quality. However, MTBE has been found to contaminate drinking water supplies, causing the water to be foul-tasting and have such an offensive odor that it is virtually undrinkable.


According to the U.S. Geological Survey's July 2003 Water Quality Assessment, 55 percent - a majority - of large water systems surveyed in urbanized areas had already detected MTBE in their water supplies at varying levels.   The assessment's random survey of water systems throughout the nation (including areas that use MTBE and those that do not) showed eight percent with detections of MTBE.


"Thousands of cities, counties, public water utilities and city public works agencies are going to get stuck with a huge cleanup bill unless senators speak out against this oil industry bail-out," said Diane VanDe Hei, Executive Director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.   "If Congress chooses to protect the MTBE industry, it will turn the 'polluter pays' concept upside down."


"The safe harbor provision amounts to a $29 billion bailout for the oil industry on the backs of local governments, community water systems and taxpayers," said Jack Hoffbuhr, Executive Director of the American Water Works Association.


"The conference committee has ignored the pleas of local government leaders representing millions of people of the United States who will be stuck with MTBE contaminated drinking water supplies," said the National League of Cities.   "Congress needs to make sure the MTBE industry pays for the cleanup of contaminated drinking water supplies."


Congress never mandated the use of MTBE, and so Congress is not obligated to provide the producers with safe harbor.   Also court documents show that the MTBE industry knew of the chemical's environmental dangers before putting it into widespread use.


The coalition of organizations consists of National League of Cities (NLC), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), American Public Works Association (APWA), National Association of Counties (NACo), American Water Works Association (AWWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), National Rural Water Association (NRWA), Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), Western Coalition of Arid States (WESTCAS), National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT).





The U.S. Conference of Mayors is the official nonpartisan organization of cities with populations of 30,000 or more. There are more than 1,100 such cities in the country today. Each city is represented in the Conference by its chief elected official, the mayor.


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MTBE 11/14/03
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