(AP) - The Bush administration quietly shelved
a proposal to ban a gasoline additive that
contaminates drinking water in many communities,
helping an industry that has donated more
than $1 million to Republicans.
Environmental Protection Agency's decision
had its origin in the early days of President
Bush's tenure when his administration decided
not to move ahead with a Clinton-era regulatory
effort to ban the clean-air additive MTBE.
proposed regulation said the environmental
harm of the additive leaching into ground
water overshadowed its beneficial effects
to the air.
Bush administration decided to leave the issue
to Congress, where it has bogged down over
a proposal to shield the industry from some
lawsuits. That initiative is being led by
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.
Associated Press obtained a draft of the proposed
regulation that former President Clinton's
EPA sent to the White House on its last full
day in office in January 2001.
said: "The use of MTBE as an additive in gasoline
presents an unreasonable risk to the environment."
EPA document went on to say that "low levels
of MTBE can render drinking water supplies
unpotable due to its offensive taste and odor,"
and the additive should be phased out over
other components of gasoline, MTBE dissolves
and spreads readily in the ground water ...
resists biodegradation and is more difficult
and costly to remove."
say MTBE-contaminated water tastes like turpentine.
Santa Monica, Calif., the oil industry will
pay hundreds of millions of dollars because
the additive contaminated the city's water
the poster child for MTBE, and it could take
decades to clean this up," said Joseph Lawrence,
the assistant city attorney.
2000, the MTBE industry's lobbying group told
the Clinton administration that limiting MTBE's
use by regulation "would inflict grave economic
harm on member companies."
MTBE producers account for half the additive's
three contributed $338,000 to George W. Bush's
presidential campaign, the Republican Party
and Republican congressional candidates in
1999 and 2000, twice what they gave Democrats,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Since then, the three producers have given
just over $1 million to Republicans.
producers are Texas-based Lyondell Chemical
and Valero Energy and the Huntsman companies
of Salt Lake City.
is a classic case of the Bush administration
helping its campaign contributor friends at
the expense of public health," said Frank
O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean
Air Trust, a Washington-based environmental
spokesman Don Olsen, echoing comments by other
MTBE producers, said, "We were not a huge
campaign contributor and this has absolutely
nothing to do with campaign donations. It
has to do with good public policy."
industry says it has become a victim in a
Washington power struggle.
of MTBE there has been a marked improvement
in air quality and reduction in toxics in
the air," Olsen said. "Because of leaking
underground storage tanks in some relatively
few instances, MTBE found its way into places
it shouldn't be. But that has nothing to do
with the product, which has done exactly what
it was designed to do."
Valero Energy spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown:
"It would have been impossible to fulfill
the requirements of the Clean Air Act without
daily Washington newsletter disclosed the
existence of the draft rule shortly after
Bush's inauguration; outside the industry,
few people noticed.
the direction of White House chief of staff
Andrew Card and Mitch Daniels, then the White
House's budget director, all government agencies
withdrew their pre-Inauguration Day draft
EPA withdrew agency rules, including the MTBE
one, in mid-February 2001, White House budget
office spokesman Chad Kolton said.
subsequent months, agencies rewrote many Clinton-era
regulatory proposals and went public with
them. The proposed MTBE regulation, however,
legislation looked more promising in 2002
and 2003, we focused our energies on supporting
language in the Senate's energy bill," Jeffrey
Holmstead, the EPA's assistant administrator
for air quality, said in a statement Friday.
have not ruled out the possibility of seeking
a solution" by regulation, Holmstead said.
EPA favors a phaseout of MTBE through legislation.
But the legislation has stalled and it no
longer calls for a ban in four years.
John Kerry of Massachusetts, the front-runner
for the Democratic presidential nomination,
issued a statement Sunday calling the MTBE
matter a case of the Bush administration "yet
again putting special interests over America's
interest." He pledged to "take on the big
oil and gas companies and fight for clean
water and a clean environment."
Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said, "If the White
House had not rejected this regulation, MTBE
would be virtually eliminated by now and our
groundwater would be protected." Waxman is
the ranking Democrat on the House Government
their own, 17 states banned the additive and
dozens of communities are suing the oil industry.
talking about the trial lawyers campaign contributions
to their supporters in Congress and its the
trial lawyers who are the force behind these
unjustified lawsuits," said Brown of Valero
regulate MTBE, the EPA would have to use the
Toxic Substances Control Act, which the agency
considers cumbersome and unwieldy.
industry representative Scott Segal said,
"It took EPA a decade to develop enough data
to justify issuing a regulation for asbestos"
under the law. "Even then, the courts still
Perciasepe, an EPA official during the Clinton
administration, said a regulatory approach
would have provided "a pressure point" to
University law professor Lisa Heinzerling
said regulating MTBE would be difficult, but
"if we can't use the Toxic Substances Control
Act to regulate MTBE, which has contaminated
water supplies all over the country, then
what can you use it for?"
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