AG Lobbies to Maintain MtBE Liability

New Hampshire Attorney General Peter Heed is urging Sens. John Sununu and Judd Gregg to oppose a provision in a version of the Bush energy bill passed by the House that would prevent states from suing MtBE manufacturers for damages caused by the toxic substance.

Heed wrote a letter to Gregg and Sununu on April 25 and was joined by 13 more state attorneys general on a letter sent June 16 on this same issue.

The attorneys general joining Heed in making the request on this latest letter represent the states of New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

"In addition to establishing an extremely troubling precedent in which Congress is legislatively determining that harmful chemical compounds are not ‘defective,’ Section 17102 (Fuels Safe Harbor) of the House energy bill would also seriously undermine efforts to protect groundwater and surface water from the harmful effects of MtBE contamination," the attorneys general wrote.

Heed’s April letter spelled out the problems this provision of the House energy bill would create for New Hampshire.

"I am particularly concerned about the impact that this provision would have on my ability to address what is quickly becoming a serious groundwater contamination problem in New Hampshire. As you know, New Hampshire relies heavily on groundwater as a source of drinking water," Heed wrote to the state’s congressional delegation. "Yet based upon investigations conducted to date, about one-third, or 33 percent, of all public water supplies in Strafford County are contaminated with MtBE and, statewide, 15 percent of public water supplies are contaminated with MtBE."

Heed noted the full extent of the contamination is not yet known and that it is unlikely there will be sufficient public funds available in the state to address the problem.

"Any limitation that Congress places on my ability to pursue all avenues of legal recourse against potentially liable private parties, including manufacturers, will only shift the burden of addressing this growing problem to the state and its citizens," the New Hampshire attorney general said.

MtBE is an oxygenate added to gasoline initially to meet federal air quality standards in areas where air pollution periodically exceeds federal safety levels, including the New Hampshire and Maine seacoast, and poses health risks to humans and should be regarded as a carcinogen based on animal cancer data.

<I><P>Portsmouth Herald</P>

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