The recent defeat of the president’s energy bill in the Senate was cause for celebration for towns that have had their water supply contaminated with methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The senators were right to stand up to this bill and not give petrochemical companies a free hand to potentially poison over 1,500 cities that have made claims against them.
Recently, a filibuster led mainly by Democrats killed Bush’s energy bill in the Senate. The main point of contention of the bill, which was over 1,200 pages, was of a single provision that would absolve petrochemical companies of any legal responsibility from lawsuits against them in regard to MTBE.
Used as a common additive in gasoline, MTBE has been known to leak from underground storage tanks and contaminate nearby water supplies. According to a report in Knight Ridder Newspapers, MTBE has been cited as a cause of pollution in water supplies in at least 28 states. The additive is naturally drawn toward water and is easily dissolvable. Once in the water, MTBE can remain present for years, making the water undrinkable. It is also a suspected carcinogen.
While supporters of Bush’s energy bill say that it is simply an attempt to get the country back in the business of producing energy, critics are calling this policy a perversion. This accusation stems from the fact that not only would the bill give MTBE manufacturers protection from pollution-related lawsuits filed since Sept. 5, it would also grant petrochemical companies $2 billion to assist them in developing alternative products.
New York Senator Hillary Clinton aptly grasped the situation when she told Knight Ridder Newspapers, “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, but not a penny to you.”
Senate Republicans have vowed to make a second attempt at the passage of the energy bill. If they do, the Democrats should again stand strong against what can only be construed as a handout to special interests. Congress cannot stand idly by and allow these companies to make profits at the expense of people’s health.