The Safe-Harbor Provision for Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE)

RS21676 -- The Safe-Harbor Provision for Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE)

Updated June 10, 2005


Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is a fuel additive in wide use throughout the United States. Due to leakage from underground storage tanks and other sources of exposure, MTBE has been found in the drinking water supplies of several states. Whether to shield certain parties from MTBE-related liability proved controversial in the 108th Congress, and ultimately no legislation addressing the issue was enacted. In the 109th Congress, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (H.R. 6) has been passed by the House of Representatives; it contains a safe-harbor provision protecting any potential defendant, such as MTBE manufacturers and distributors, from claims asserting that MTBE is a "defective product," a common standard for liability under products liability jurisprudence. Additionally, the H.R. 6 provision includes language applying the safe-harbor retroactively, potentially barring numerous pending lawsuits. Exemption from liability related to MTBE contamination remains controversial and may again become the subject of debate in the 109th Congress. Accordingly, this report analyzes the legal implications of the safe-harbor provision found in H.R. 6. This report will be updated as necessary.