In Washington, congressional negotiators working on a compromise energy bill have given up trying to protect companies that make the gasoline additive MTBE from environmental lawsuits.
The state of New Hampshire and 35 other states are suing MTBE manufacturers because MTBE has seeped into water supplies and private water wells. New Hampshire Republican Congressman Charlie Bass says refiners should not be allowed to escape responsibility, and the opposition knew they had to give in to get the bill passed.
House and Senate negotiators working over the weekend dropped the liability provision from the bill, along with a proposal for an $11.5 billion MTBE cleanup fund, which Republicans pushed as a compromise liability shield for the industry. Texas Senator John Cornyn fought to keep the liability protection. He says it’s required by federal law because it reduces carbon monoxide emissions, and it’s too important to be exposed to liability lawsuits.
The liability protection has been the single biggest obstacle to getting an energy bill passed. Several senators vowed they would filibuster if the bill reached the floor with the provision intact, and the bill’s supporters say they doubted they had the votes needed to end a filibuster. Congress is under pressure from President Bush to have an energy bill on his desk before the August recess.