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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Gas additive proposal shelved

WASHINGTON – 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.
The 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.
The proposed regulation said the environmental harm of the additive leaching into ground water overshadowed its beneficial effects to the air.
The 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.
The 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.
It said: ”The use of MTBE as an additive in gasoline presents an unreasonable risk to the environment.”
The 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 four years.
”Unlike other components of gasoline, MTBE dissolves and spreads readily in the ground water … resists biodegradation and is more difficult and costly to remove.”
People say MTBE-contaminated water tastes like turpentine.
In Santa Monica, Calif., the oil industry will pay hundreds of millions of dollars because the additive contaminated the city’s water supply.
”We’re the poster child for MTBE, and it could take decades to clean this up,” said Joseph Lawrence, the assistant city attorney.
In 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.”
Three MTBE producers account for half the additive’s daily output.
The 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.
The producers are Texas-based Lyondell Chemical and Valero Energy and the Huntsman companies of Salt Lake City.
”This 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 group.
Huntsman 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.”
The industry says it has become a victim in a Washington power struggle.

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