Schumer Rails Against MTBE

Vows to block energy bill If MTBE liability waiver not removed

Published in CSP Daily News

WASHINGTON -- Standing at the site of a methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) spill in the Capital Region, Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a new list of MTBE hotspots.

The previously undisclosed list of MTBE spills in the Capital Region identifies threats to residential homes, commercial properties, water supply wells and the Hudson River. If a specific special interest provision included in the energy bill passed by the House is not removed, he said, the enormous cleanup costs will be incurred by consumers. He will announce his intention to filibuster [image-nocss] the energy bill if the MTBE provision is not removed.

This may be the single worst special-interest giveaway to polluters that I have ever seen in more than 20 years in Washington, Schumer said. It is shocking that New York's drinking water is threatened by leaks and spills that haven't been cleaned up for more than 20 years and, adding insult to injury, consumers will have to foot the bill. This underscores why the energy bill has no business being passed if these provisions are included. The idea that we should let the companies whose product literally poisoned our groundwater get away freeand instead force innocent New Yorkers to pay for the cleanupis so audacious that words fail to describe it. When my kids were four years old they knew that if you make a mess, you clean it up. If the people who introduced poison into our wells and aquifers think that they can getaway without a fight, they have another thing coming.

Schumer described a spill that was found at a former Mobil station that still does not meet standards nearly 20 years after first being reported.

Schumer said the safe harbor provision in the energy billwhich has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and which would exempt oil companies from liability over MTBEwould make taxpayers in New York, and those all over the country, pay the entire cost to clean up MTBE, the potentially cancer-causing chemical first added to gasoline in the 1970s and in widespread use since the 1990s. When gasoline containing MTBE was spilled or leaked out of underground storage tanks, it poisoned underground water systems, including 175 sites in the Capital Region, he claimed.

The safe harbor provision would prevent petroleum companies from having to pay to clean up the damage their toxic product created by making a blanket declaration that no chemical that gets added to gasoline as part of the energy bill's ethanol mandate, or MTBE, can ever be considered a defective product in a court of law, even if the chemical is a possible carcinogen.

The House recently passed its version of the energy bill, which included the safe harbor provision.

MTBE came into wide use around 1979. MTBE became even more widespread after changes to the Clean Air Act in 1990 required that reformulated gasoline containing an oxygenate be sold in areas like New York with poor air quality. When MTBE leaks out of an underground storage tanks and into an underground drinking water system like the one under the surface of Capital Region, the poison does not break down, moves through the water quickly, and makes the water smell and taste like turpentine.

While MTBE has been detected in groundwater and drinking water in every state, the problem is particularly acute in New York, Schumer said. In New York state alone there are 2,727 MTBE spills, including 89 spills in Albany County, 44 in Rensselaer County and 42 in Schenectady County, he claimed.

MTBE is a poison that threatens the environment and public health in the Capital Region, Schumer said. No two-paragraph statement in a piece of legislation is going to change that truth, and I'm not going to let Big Oil push these cleanup costs onto New York homeowners without a fight.