Pa. DEP urges Senators to fight MTBE measure that would undermine cleanup

Latest version of federal energy bill includes language that could shield MTBE manufacturers from legal claims...

HARRISBURG, PA, June 2, 2005 (PRNewswire) -- Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty again urged the state's U.S. senators to oppose the inclusion of a "safe harbor" provision in federal energy legislation that would essentially grant manufacturers of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) immunity from claims that the fuel additive is "defective in design or manufacture" and seriously undermine efforts to clean up groundwater and surface water contaminated by MTBE.

"Creating a liability shield to protect the MTBE manufacturing industry undermines state and private efforts to remove widespread soil and water contamination," McGinty said. "Supporting this kind of deal for responsible parties amounts to imposing tens of millions of dollars in new taxes that Pennsylvanians will have to pay for cleanup."

Her letter urges U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum to oppose a provision that blocks product liability and other lawsuits against MTBE manufacturers and oil companies. That provision was included in a version of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that the U.S. House of Representatives passed April 21. The measure now is with the U.S. Senate for consideration.

The Rendell administration previously sent letters to the senators in September 2003 and November 2003 urging their opposition to the liability shield when Congress was debating an earlier version of the federal energy bill.

Granting such immunity from liability could impede efforts to secure the cleanup of MTBE contamination. State and federal funding for such cleanups is already limited at best; statutory remedies against the manufacturers are also limited. Common law claims against manufacturers, seeking either injunctive or monetary remedies, provide important tools to clean up MTBE contamination.

Scientific evidence has established that MTBE poses risks to human health. MTBE is absorbed rapidly and extensively from the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of humans. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified MTBE as a possible human carcinogen on the basis of studies that show MTBE to be a carcinogen in animals. Health complaints related to MTBE have included headaches, dizziness, irritated eyes, burning of the nose and throat, coughing, disorientation, and nausea.

MTBE is also readily soluble in water and migrates quickly through groundwater. This renders the cleanup of contamination from leaking underground storage tanks much more difficult and expensive. MTBE has caused extensive contamination of both groundwater and surface water across the country, including Pennsylvania, where the southeastern portion of the state has been particularly affected.

A nationwide study by the U.S. Geological Survey found MTBE in 86% of wells sampled in industrial areas, 31% sampled in commercial areas,

23% in residential areas and 23% in areas of mixed urban land use, parks, and recreational areas.

For more information, visit DEP's Web site at www.dep.state.pa.us, Keyword: "MTBE."

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