Energy Bill Would Make Oil Companies Immune from Liability of MTBE Damage

Nov. 20, 2003
American Public Works Association Asks Congress to Make Oil Companies Responsible for Contamination

The 27,000 members of the American Public Works Association (APWA) and public works agencies throughout the country called on Congress to repeal provisions in the energy bill that would protect America’s oil companies from accepting their responsibility for environmental damage they caused. "It is inconceivable to public officials that at a time when cities are struggling to find the funds necessary to maintain basic and critical operations, Congress would force our communities to make local taxpayers pay to clean-up after the oil companies," noted APWA Executive Director Peter B. King.

Language in the energy bill would make the oil companies immune from liability for any contamination caused by the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), thus shifting the costs of clean-up to local governments rather than to the polluters themselves. "No one responsible for the contamination will pay for cleaning it up," King continued, "that burden will fall on our local communities." "The industry that caused the problem needs to stand up and be accountable for their actions, and they are not," concluded King.

APWA members are particularly concerned about the provision because of the host of competing needs faced by their cities. Said Andy Haney, Public Works Director in Ottawa, Kansas, "In Ottawa we have to find money to implement new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations and reporting requirements such as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), upgrade aging water and wastewater infrastructure systems, and implement new security measures and standards to protect against terrorism.  These are all new requirements that come on top of sustaining routine, basic services for the public good.  Where to find funding for this growing list of priorities is a serious issue."

Congress phases out the use of MTBE by the end of 2014 but provides no funds for local governments to pay for clean-up, estimated at $29 billion nationwide. Fourteen states have already banned the toxic MTBE due to concerns over increased rates of cancer, kidney and liver damage, among other health risks. "We have to do everything possible to stop Congress from burying this costly provision in the massive energy bill. We are aware of the cost-shift and will do what it takes to have it repealed," King added.

APWA joined with other organizations to call for the repeal of the MTBE liability provision. Those organizations include: the National League of Cities (NLC), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), the National Association of Counties (NACo), the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA), the National Rural Water Association (NRWA), the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), the Western Coalition of Arid States (WESTCAS) and the National Association of Towns and Townships (NATaT).

Working in the public interest, the members of APWA design, build, operate, and maintain the transportation, water supply, sewage and refuse disposal systems, public buildings, and other structures and facilities essential to the nation’s economy and way of life.

Source: American Public Works Association

Image courtesy Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia (ICIQ).
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