Schwarzenegger Breaks Ranks

Comes out against MTBE immunity

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has broken ranks with California House Republicans by urging rejection of a U.S. House-passed provision that immunizes manufacturers of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from lawsuits over groundwater contamination, reported the Sacramento Bee.

Democrats who agree with him said Schwarzenegger should have made his position known last month when it would have mattered most, said the report. The governor could have been really helpful in convincing members of the House to vote to remove [image-nocss] those provisions, said Representative Lois Capps (D), who offered the amendment to strike the MTBE immunity clause when the House was considering an energy bill last month.

Capps' motion failed by six votes, with all of California's 20 Republican members siding with the MTBE industry against the provision, the report said.

Schwarzenegger's opposition to immunizing the MTBE industry from product liability lawsuits comes as the U.S. Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee goes to work this week on its version of the energy package. It is not expected to contain the immunity waiver, the newspaper said. Schwarzenegger's letter to committee leaders included his recommendations on the full range of issues included in the sweeping energy bill.

The governor also supported doubling the fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks.

But even energy lobbyists were a little befuddled by the fuss over Schwarzenegger's coming out now against the MTBE liability provision. Frank Maisano, a lobbyist for oil companies that make MTBE, said it will make little difference. I don't see this as a big break, he told the Bee. The Senate has already decided that they don't want the MTBE provision in their bill. Maisano said that MTBE liability is an issue that will be decided later in a House-Senate conference committee, not by the Senate this week.

Underground storage tank leaks have been a problem in California, the report said, and Sacramento County is among the local governments that have filed a lawsuit against MTBE makers over groundwater contamination. Such lawsuits would be made moot by the House-passed provision.

Schwarzenegger's letter was trumpeted by the Environmental Working Group, the report said. We commend the governor for speaking out against the Big Oil bailout, even though it meant breaking with his party's entire congressional delegation, said Ken Cook, president of EWG. But Maisano charged that EWG receives some money from trial lawyers fighting to preserve their opportunity to sue manufacturers for producing an additive that was virtually mandated by 1990 amendments to the federal Clean Air Act.

The trial bar wants highly expensive litigation, Maisano said, adding that communities still would be able to go after gas station owners for negligence leading to the spills, the report added.

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