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A coalition of water supply and local government interests who have long opposed including MTBE "safe harbor" language in national energy legislation this week urged lawmakers not to slip such a provision into a major transportation bill now being negotiated by House and Senate conferees.
The coalition also detailed a set of MTBE cleanup principles that any legislative solution "must incorporate."
In a June 27 letter to leaders of key House and Senate committees, executives from AWWA and nine other coalition members said they "are alarmed that Congress would consider attaching such a provision to the surface transportation bill. This bill is important to our communities, and the addition of the MTBE liability waiver would severely damage the progress made by the transportation conference committee."
Asserting that the transportation bill "is too important to contaminate with the unfair and highly controversial MTBE provision," coalition members also cited a recent Congressional Budget Office finding that such a provision amounts to an unfunded mandate and two new studies predicting MTBE cleanup costs of at least $25 billion to $33.2 billion.
The letter came as news reports emerged indicating a possible agreement that would retain the safe harbor language while having Congress and the oil and gas industry each contribute several billion dollars to establish a dedicated MTBE cleanup account.
The coalition sent a letter to all members of Congress on June 29 describing its five foundation principles for any such deal, topped by a demand that "no community should have to pay the cost of cleaning up MTBE-contaminated water supplies."
Such a deal would also have to ensure that the arrangement covers the cost of cleaning up drinking water and not just mitigating storage tank leaks and does not impose an unfunded mandate on local governments, have taxpayers help MTBE producers phase out the problematic gas additive or link cleanup funds to the annual appropriations process.
The Senate this week passed its version of a comprehensive energy policy bill (S 10) that, unlike the House-approved version (HR 6), does not provide MTBE safe harbor, setting the stage for negotiations by conferees.