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MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is a toxic gasoline additive.

"At the heart of the debate is methyl tertiary butyl ether, a gasoline additive that is intended to reduce smog. MTBE has been in use since 1990, when Congress mandated that producers add some form of oxygen enhancer to gasoline to cut down on pollution. But MTBE has been found to contaminate ground water and has been the subject of numerous lawsuits across the country." [1]

"The oil industry and its friends in Congress say it's only fair to shield MTBE makers from lawsuits, since, they claim, it was the government that mandated oil companies to reformulate gas with MTBE in the first place, to clean the air." [2]

MTBE, Tom DeLay, and Joe Barton

MTBE "has some powerful Republican backers, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton. Both men represent districts in Texas, which is also the home of some of the country’s largest MTBE manufacturers, including Exxon Mobil, Lyondell Chemical and Valero Energy," Courtney Mabeus wrote April 21, 2005, for Capital Eye.

"DeLay has raised nearly $558,000 in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests since 1989, more than from any other industry. Lyondell was among DeLay’s biggest contributors during the 2004 election cycle, with $16,000 in contributions from employees and political action committees," he wrote, and "Barton also has raised more campaign money from the oil and gas industry – nearly $931,000 – than from any other since 1989. Valero Energy contributed nearly $36,000 in individual and PAC contributions to him during that time."

In 2003, Barton and "a witness before his committee, Erik Olsen from the Natural Resources Defense Council, were talking about the gasoline additive MTBE, which NRDC wants to phase out and Barton doesn't.

"What's the big problem? Barton wanted to know. Does it kill people? Olsen said water with MTBE smelled bad. But 'is there any case,' Barton said, 'anywhere, where there has been proven to be harm to the public health . . . ?'

"Olsen noted that several studies suggest MTBE is a possible carcinogen. 'But not suggest. Prove,' Barton said. 'If I drink enough Diet Dr Pepper, there's a suggestion that it's a carcinogen. But there's no proof that if I'm a normal imbiber of Diet Dr Pepper, that's a carcinogenic. I can go out in the hall and pass gas, and that odor is harmful in a sense to the people that are around me. But I've not been identified [by] EPA yet as a mobile source polluter.' Not yet."

"Barton received over $100,000 from companies which make MTBE. These companies received legislative language which would give them exemption from liability for the cost of clean-up." --Blue Skies Alliance, November 2003.

Also see "Tom's Tainted Team. An analysis of House Members who side with DeLay and MTBE special interests over their constituents," League of Conservation Voters, April 21, 2005.

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