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HR 6 Provides Immunity for Oil Companies Responsible for Water Contamination
The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), whose members supply 90 percent of the water delivered statewide, is urging the state's Representatives in the House and Senate to oppose HR 6, the National Energy Policy Act of 2003, this week on the floor of both houses, up to and including a support for a Senate filibuster.
The House and Senate are expected to vote this week on the final version of HR 6. Of special interest to California, the energy bill contains provisions to provide liability immunity for fuel manufacturers involved in groundwater contamination by the additive MTBE, which has shut down water supplies statewide from Tahoe to Santa Monica. Even worse, the liability immunity would be retroactive and therefore nullify the lawsuit filed October 2 by Sacramento County water districts.
Co-litigants in the case include: the city of Elk Grove; Sacramento County Water Agency; Sacramento Groundwater Authority; Carmichael Water District; Citrus Heights Water District; Fair Oaks Water District; Florin Resource Conservation District; Rio Linda/Elverta Community Water District; Sacramento Suburban Water District; and California-American Water Co.
"Californians in Congress need to know what the energy bill will do to local communities and their water supplies in the long term," said ACWA Executive Director Steve Hall. "This bill forces Congress to choose between a dubious new escape clause for the oil industry, or protecting our state's increasingly finite reserves of water."
In summary, the energy bill would exempt fuel companies from liability for contamination by MTBE; back date the protection to September 5, 2003 thereby invalidating lawsuits already filed in California and New Hampshire; provide over $2 billion over seven years to fuel companies to pay them to stop blending MTBE into gasoline; and prohibit any environmental rules against continuing to export MTBE, despite its known tendencies to pollute groundwater.
"If bad public policy was the goal of the energy bill's drafters, this legislation is a work of art," said Hall. "It pulls the rug out from under communities already seeking redress for the loss of their water supplies, while heaping subsidies on the creators of this pollutant."
All year in Washington, ACWA has been joined by cities, counties, and water groups nationwide in sending this message to Congress. This week will be the deciding moment when members choose between their constituency and the fuel companies seeking the exemption.