House Hearing Held on Bill to Grant MTBE Producers Immunity from Liability

H.R. 4345, the Domestic Fuels Protection Act, was the subject of a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment and Economy hearing on Thursday, April 19. ACWA issued a legislative alert on the bill because several provisions could negatively impact water quality. An Outreach Alert and a sample letter can be found here.

Specifically the bill:

  • Dismisses with prejudice all on-going civil lawsuits in state and federal court over fuel additives.  This includes but is not limited to MTBE cases.
  • Provides immunity from liability (safe harbor) to producers of all current and future gasoline additives.
  • Effectively waives state laws on the ability of underground storage tanks and related equipment to handle fuel additives.

Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-Illinois) noted in his opening statement that “One of our witnesses suggested that H.R. 4345, as introduced, somehow blocks legal actions arising from mishandling of MTBE going back to the days when MTBE was used as an oxygenate instead of ethanol. That is certainly not the intent of the legislation.”

Based on the Chairman’s remarks it appears the bill will be amended before it moves forward.  However, as noted by Representative Henry Waxman (D-30th), the full Committee Ranking Member, “There are over 1,500 registered fuels and almost 7,500 registered fuel additives. This legislation would remove all liability for harm caused by these fuels and fuel additives.”

ACWA has a long history of opposing this type of legislative language because it transfers the cost of cleaning up contaminated groundwater from the responsible parties to the water agencies and ratepayers. Since the bill was introduced March 30, ACWA’s federal affairs committee did not have time to take an official position before the hearing.  However, ACWA along with the California Association of Sanitation Agencies submitted a letter objecting to several provisions of the bill prior to the hearing.  Additionally, ACWA joined onto a letter with the American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and National Rural Water Association expressing concerns with the bill.

Representative Lois Capps (D-23rd) quoted form these letters during the hearing and asked Chairman Shimkus to address the water agencies concerns.

ACWA will continue to track this issue closely as the bill could be marked up in the near future.  ACWA encourages its member to contact their member of Congress about this bill.

The ACWA/CASA and AWWA/AMWA/ACWA/National Rural Water Letter can be found below.

HR4345CASA ACWA Final 4 18 12.pdf113.18 KB
HR4345 WaterLetter4-18-12.pdf204.63 KB