David Randolph Smith

Companies Seek to Cap MTBE Liability


  • 4/22/05: The Energy bill passed by the House yesterday contains a liability shield for the manufacturers of the additive methyl tertiary butyl ether, known as MTBE. The law, strongly supported by Tom Delay, provides product liability protection for makers of MTBE, including major oil companies and refiners, against lawsuits stemming from the gasoline additive that has been proven to seriously contaminate drinking water. MTBE's major producers are Houston-based Lyondell Chemical Co., Valero Energy Corp., Huntsman Chemical, Texas Petrochemicals and Exxon Mobil Corp. Oil companies knew of the dangers of MTBE in drinking water and allegedly withheld information from EPA during the regulatory approval process.
  • Two years ago an identical MTBE liability waiver stopped a nearly completed energy bill in its tracks. Senator Barabra Boxer stated: "It's a toxic bill."" "The MTBE issue is a shame upon the [Congress]. To give a liability waiver to people who make that poison ... is to put this on the backs of the communities and local taxpayers. It's so egregious." The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that found that the liability shield could reduce the amount of money local communities and states could win in potential legal settlements or jury awards against the manufacturers for allegedly contaminating water supplies. About 80 such lawsuits have been filed. Again the Senate filibuster rule will come into play as Republicans do not appear to have the 60 votes necessary to sustain the MTBE liability provision in the Senate. Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, M.D. lost a filibuster on the MTBE provision in 2003.