Rendell Administration Opposes Energy Bill for Harboring MTBE Manufacturers
Says Immunity from Liability Could Hinder Clean-up Efforts
Harrisburg, PA— On behalf of Pennsylvania Governor
Edward G. Rendell, Department of Environmental Protection, Kathleen A.
McGinty urged Congress to oppose the inclusion of a “safe harbor”
provision in U.S. energy legislation that essentially would grant manufacturers
of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) immunity from claims that the fuel
additive is “defective in design or manufacture” and seriously
undermine efforts to clean up groundwater and surface water contaminated
“If Congress decides to determine by legislative
fiat what is or is not defective, it sets a precedent that in effect renders
irrelevant any legitimate, substantial scientific and medical evidence
regarding the health hazards of a dangerous product,” Secretary
In a letter to Congress, Secretary McGinty urged opposition
of the MTBE immunity provision in the energy bill. The House and Senate
have formed a conference committee to resolve differences between the
measures each chamber has passed and to put forth compromise legislation
Scientific evidence has established that MTBE poses
risks to human health. MTBE is absorbed rapidly and extensively from the
respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of humans. The Environmental Protection
Agency has classified MTBE as a possible human carcinogen on the basis
of studies that show MTBE to be a carcinogen in animals. Health complaints
related to MTBE have included headaches, dizziness, irritated eyes, burning
of the nose and throat, coughing, disorientation, and nausea.
MTBE is also readily soluble in water and migrates quickly
through groundwater. This renders the cleanup of contamination from leaking
underground storage tanks much more difficult and expensive. MTBE has
caused extensive contamination of both groundwater and surface water across
the country, including Pennsylvania, where the southeastern portion of
the state has been particularly affected.
A nationwide study by the U.S. Geological Survey found
MTBE in 86 percent of wells sampled in industrial areas, 31 percent sampled
in commercial areas, 23 percent in residential areas and 23 percent in
areas of mixed urban land use, parks, and recreational areas.
Secretary McGinty noted that granting such immunity
from liability could impede efforts to secure the cleanup of MTBE contamination.
State and federal funding for such cleanups is already limited at best;
statutory remedies against the manufacturers also are limited. Common
law claims against manufacturers, seeking either injunctive or monetary
remedies, provide important tools to clean up MTBE contamination.
“This provision would establish an extremely troubling
precedent in which Congress legislatively determines that harmful chemical
compounds are not defective,” Secretary McGinty said. “Not
only would it protect the MTBE manufacturing industry from liability and
undermine state and private efforts to remove widespread contamination
to our soil and water, but it also would lead to numerous similar requests
from other companies seeking immunity from liability for manufacturing
dangerous products regardless of the risks to public health.”