July 21, 2005

Senate Democrats demand EPA’s MTBE cancer findings

By Chris Baltimore

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Democrats asked the Bush
administration on Thursday to share research on whether a
water-fouling fuel additive is known to cause cancer as
Republicans pushed to protect the manufacturers from lawsuits.

The proposed legal liability protection for makers of
methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, is one of several thorny
issues that House and Senate negotiators must resolve to
prepare a final broad energy bill that would boost U.S.

Negotiators hope to wrap up bill talks early next week
after a rare weekend bargaining session.

But Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, who is trying to create an
industry-funded trust fund to clean up contamination from MTBE
leaks, has yet to share his proposal with most other lawmakers.

Some 20 Democratic senators and Independent James Jeffords
on Thursday demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency
share findings of a draft report on MTBE's risk to human

"If ingestion of MTBE is determined to cause adverse human
health effects, such as cancer, it is imperative that we have
that information," lawmakers said in a letter to EPA
administrator Steve Johnson.

An EPA spokeswoman said the draft report is in the early
stages and no final conclusions are expected for more than a

"The scientific process should not be compromised for
political expediency," the spokeswoman said.

The lawmakers said they want to know if the EPA's draft
study labels MTBE as a likely carcinogen, which would require
the agency to draft rules to limit human exposure. The EPA now
categorizes MTBE as a possible carcinogen, and has issued
voluntary guidelines for MTBE levels in drinking water.

Municipal water authorities say cleaning up the MTBE
seepage from underground tanks will cost billions of dollars.
The potential for costly litigation would grow if MTBE is
reclassified as a likely carcinogen.

Barton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee
and head energy bill negotiator, told reporters he may unveil
details of the MTBE clean up plan on Friday.

"Honestly not everybody has signed onto it," Barton told

Barton still must sell the deal to Northeast senators, who
oppose liability protections that Barton wants to extend to
MTBE makers.

Pete Domenici, the head Senate energy negotiator, said his
chamber would not accept MTBE liability waivers.

"We won't take that bill to the Senate" if it contains MTBE
liability waivers, Domenici told reporters. "They (House
negotiators) know we can't do that."