Will MTBE Kill the 2005 Energy Bill?

Published July 11, 2005

The nation’s energy policy is in limbo as a congressional conference committee works this month to reconcile differences between recently passed House and Senate energy bills. A major sticking point in the negotiations is a House liability protection for suppliers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

MTBE became a major component of gasoline in the country’s metropolitan areas following congressional passage in 1990 of amendments to the Clean Air Act. Today, concerns about MTBE groundwater contamination have spawned numerous lawsuits, and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and others have vowed to block final passage of the energy bill if it contains an MTBE liability waiver.

The Heartland Institute, a 21-year-old nonprofit and nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Chicago, offers three experts who can provide insights into the MTBE controversy: the extent of the problem, public health consequences, and why the chemical is mired in legal and political conflicts.

Former U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston was chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in 1990 when clean air legislation led to widespread use of the now-controversial chemical MTBE in our nation’s gasoline supply. As a Democrat, Johnston offers a critical viewpoint that differs from some current Democratic views in the U.S. Senate. Johnston is a senior policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.

Environmental attorney Maureen Martin has practiced law for more than 22 years, specializing in litigation and environmental matters. She has taught environmental law at her alma mater, Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and has written and spoken extensively on the subject. Martin is senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute.

Scientist Jay Lehr, Ph.D. is considered the world’s leading authority on groundwater hydrology. He has served as executive director of the National Water Well Association and the Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers. He has worked extensively with the federal government to develop key environmental regulations for surface and ground water. He is the author of more than 400 magazine and journal articles and 14 books. He recently completed Wiley’s Remediation Technologies Handbook, a collection of 901 technology solutions to remediate 368 chemicals and chemical groups. Lehr is science director for The Heartland Institute.

To schedule an interview with Senator Johnston, Ms. Martin, or Dr. Lehr, please contact Ralph Conner, public affairs director, The Heartland Institute, at 312-377-4000, email [email protected].

Founded in 1984, The Heartland Institute’s goal is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. Among other publications, Heartland publishes Environment & Climate News, a monthly newspaper addressing environment policy issues. Heartland is supported by approximately 1,500 donors and members.