- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday completed its comprehensive energy package, which is nearly identical to the legislation that passed the House in the last session and includes the same provisions that ultimately caused the bill to fail in the Senate.

The bill includes several provisions to improve air quality over the next decade, provide tax incentives for automakers to build more hydrogen-powered and electric and gas hybrid cars, and enhance the nation’s electric grids to prevent blackouts, such as the one that struck the Northeast in 2003.

It also includes the contentious provision to protect the producers of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) from lawsuits. The chemical makes petroleum burn cleaner leading to fewer harmful emissions, but it has been found to contaminate groundwater used for drinking.

Part of the MTBE legislation also seeks to ban the fuel additive by 2014, a target date House and Senate Democrats say is too far away. Nonetheless, the MTBE addition assures another battle with the Senate, which excluded the provision in its bill last year.

“When it comes to our friends in the Senate, I cannot be sure what they will do, but the House legislation does have [both provisions] with agreement in the committee, from retailers and marketers,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.

Use of MTBE in gasoline was made mandatory by Congress several years ago, but poor storage practices led to the concentrated groundwater contamination and numerous civil lawsuits against the additive’s manufacturers.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, has been adamant that no energy bill pass without the protection for manufacturers, saying MTBE does what it is supposed to but leaves open litigation for negligent storage.

Democrats have opposed the provision as a special-interest giveaway.

Senate Republicans are concerned that their members from corn-growing states could be swayed by the idea that the removal of MTBE would create a near-market monopoly for corn-based ethanol, a natural product with similar properties leading to equal reductions in harmful fuel emissions.

The House bill is expected to be presented for a vote in the committee next week.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has not held hearings for its bill.

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