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The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the National Association of Water Companies, representing water utilities across the country, expressed serious concern over language being considered in the House that could threaten drinking water supplies.
The objectionable language would protect producers of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) and ethanol from liability through a "safe harbor" written into the bill. These provisions are expected to be introduced today by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as they mark up the National Energy bill.
"This language could leave drinking water providers and their customers on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in cleanup of water contaminated by MTBE or other renewable fuels and in replacement of undrinkable water supplies," said Steve Hall, executive director for ACWA.
ACWA, along with American Water Works Association (AWWA), Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and National Association of Water Companies (NAWC), also expressed concern in a February 24 letter over similar provisions in Senate Bill 385 (Daschle).
While proponents of the House language say that drinking water suppliers will have recourse if contamination by MTBE and renewable fuels occurs, the water community believes the bill should clearly state that community water districts will not be left with responsibility and cost of replacing lost water supplies.
"It is worth asking, if these renewable fuels are so safe, then why is 'safe harbor' protection needed," Hall argued. "Congress should be most concerned about protecting public health and the consumer on this issue," Hall added. MTBE contamination of drinking water supplies has occurred throughout California and the nation.
The South Tahoe Public Utilities District, an ACWA member, recently settled a lawsuit with eight major oil companies over the contamination of its drinking water supplies by MTBE. The District received a combined total of $69 million from these companies. Other lawsuits over MTBE contamination are pending nationwide.