Terrorists, Polluters and Politicians Form a Powerful Anti-American Team
American Cities take heart in bust of energy bill
Our nation needs an energy policy, not a pork barrel giveaway bill. Other countries are way ahead of the U.S. in freeing themselves from dependence on foreign oil, curbing pollution, modernizing the power grid, and upgrading overall efficiency. Why don’t U.S. politicians want Americans to have these benefits too?
Here is a report on just one of the corporate welfare handouts included in the so-called Energy Bill of 2003, which is still dangerously close to passing in the Senate.
Plans to sue additive makers for damages get reprieve
by David Goldstein
The temporary collapse of the president’s energy bill after several days of debate in the Senate was welcome news to little Bel Aire, Kan.
Kansans in Park City and Dodge City were relieved, too, as well as folks in Ida Grove, Iowa, and nearby Sioux City. But the celebration over the bipartisan filibuster that stopped the bill — for now — echoed beyond the heartland.
Towns large and small, from Sacramento, Calif., to Avon, Mass., had a financial stake in ensuring the mammoth and complex $31 billion giveaway bill never made it out of the Senate.
Their concern was a provision that would prevent communities from collecting damages from the makers of MTBE, a poisonous gasoline additive designed to reduce air pollution. More than 1,500 cities and towns across the country claim it has contaminated their drinking water.
The communities and several local water systems want the largely Houston-area and Louisiana-based petrochemical companies that make methyl tertiary-butyl ether to help pay cleanup costs.
“The cost of remediation is very expensive,” said Andrew Hutton, a Wichita, Kan., lawyer representing Bel Aire, Park City, Dodge City and the Chisolm Creek Utility Authority in their lawsuits. “This stuff is hard to clean up. It’s kind of an issue of who is going to pay for this, the regular taxpayers or the polluters.”
That question proved to be the undoing of the bill, although Senate Republicans have promised a second attempt. The bill was a centerpiece of the Bush administration’s legislative agenda. Critics called it a “grab bag of special interests,” while supporters said it would allow “this country to get back into the business of producing energy.”
The bill would ban MTBE by 2015 but create a $2 billion transition fund to help manufacturers move to alternative products.
John Kneiss, vice president for regulatory and technical affairs for the Oxygenated Fuels Association, said the Clean Air Act of 1990 required oil companies to develop cleaner gasoline. If Congress now “changes the rules” and bans MTBE, he said, the transition to an alternative product could cost from $30 million to $100 million per plant.
The Progress Report points out — the Clean Air Act of 1990 never required anybody to use toxic poisons that could contaminate water supplies. The bottom line is, any true American will take responsibility for problems that he/she causes, rather than wimpily try to wiggle out of the situation and force taxpayers to pay for pollution that the taxpayers did not cause.
Supporters of corporate welfare argued that it is wrong to hold petrochemical companies accountable. “If somebody takes a can of Campbell’s Soup and smashes another guy on the head with it, is the maker of the can of soup liable?” said Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. “Certainly not.”
The Progress Report points out — Sessions failed to name even one case of MTBE use that was other than intended, so his stupid analogy fell flat on its face. If the petrochemical corporations should not be held liable, let the courts determine that. If Republicans truly believed that the polluters are not liable, they would not be afraid of the law enforcement process.
Many senators were outraged that the government might not only free the petrochemical companies of liability, but award them $2 billion, when communities were facing millions in cleanup costs.
“How perverse can public policy be?” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, was more pointed: “I can’t understand how anybody can go home from this body and go back to wherever they represent and look in the eyes of their fellow citizens and say, `Not only did we tell your mayor and your city council and your county leaders that they couldn’t sue, we’re giving $2 billion to the folks who polluted our water, and not a penny to you.’”
MTBE has contaminated public and private water supplies in at least 28 states. Not all of the operators have gone to court. The cause is often leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.
MTBE is also drawn toward water and dissolves easily. In high concentrations, the water becomes undrinkable because of an overpowering odor similar to that of turpentine. MTBE is considered a possible cause of cancer.
Missouri has had MTBE problems, too. But no jurisdictions have needed to seek damages in court. That is largely because operators of underground storage tanks have liability insurance through the state’s Petroleum Storage Tank Insurance Fund.
In Oran, in Missouri’s Bootheel region, a community of 1,200 people that had the state’s most serious case of MTBE contamination, the fund paid for cleanup and for the drilling of a new well, according to Oran Mayor Tom Urhahn.
“It wasn’t our fault what happened,” Urhahn said. “We shouldn’t be held liable for them putting the additive in.”
For Bel Aire, Dodge City and others among the 130 communities and water systems that have filed lawsuits since September, court was the only option. The problem, however, was that deep within the energy bill’s 1,200 pages was a provision that would have given MTBE manufacturers liability protection from any lawsuits, retroactive to Sept. 5 of this year.
The MTBE manufacturers hired lobbyists who sought protection from the kinds of lawsuits with which they have been swamped this fall after a contamination case in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., last year led to a $69 million settlement.
More recently, Shell, Exxon Mobil and several other companies reached an MTBE cleanup settlement with Santa Monica, Calif., that could cost $400 million.
The state of New Hampshire is suing 22 oil companies for using MTBE, which a state study says has shown up in more than 15 percent of the state’s public water supply.
“So it is no surprise that New Hampshire’s two Republican senators chose to filibuster this bill,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.
Bel Aire filed suit this month, naming as defendants more than 50 oil firms doing business in Kansas. “Our water supply is safe and secure,” said Bel Aire City Attorney Lee Parker. “But the thing with MTBE is, once it’s down in the water supply it does not ever dissipate on its own. It’s something that has to be dealt with. That’s the problem.”
Thanks to our friends at evworld.com for distributing this article.
For more on the corrupt energy bill, see
Energy Showdown by Ralph Nader and
Republican Pork Barrel Energy Bill Kept Secret
Is it fair for the government to shift liability from a private corporation to the taxpayers? What lesson will that teach to corporations? If the government doesn’t bail out the polluters, will they be more likely to buy liability insurance? Share your views with The Progress Report!