2003 Scorecard Vote
Conservationists support the use of renewable energy, but they also recognize that some renewable fuels may have serious environmental impacts. For instance, ETBE (ethyl tertiary butyl ether), a gas additive made from ethanol, may contaminate groundwater in the same manner as MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether). In addition, research indicates that ethanol inhibits the breakdown of other, more toxic components in gasoline and increases the spread of benzene and other hydrocarbons around leaking storage tanks. And as new ethanol-derived fuel additives are developed, additional public health and environmental hazards may well emerge.
The Senate energy bill (S. 14) included a provision shielding the oil, chemical, and ethanol industries from liability for problems caused by renewable fuels and fuel additives. Under this loophole, manufacturers and refiners could not be held accountable for the harm caused by their defective products, and taxpayers would be forced to bear the costs of the adverse health and environmental impacts from renewable fuels. Conservationists argued that the loophole would eliminate a major incentive for companies to thoroughly test fuels and fuel additives. It would also absolve companies for failing to warn the public of their products' risks.
During Senate floor consideration of the energy bill, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) offered an amendment to ensure that companies remain fully liable for problems caused by renewable fuels and fuel additives. On June 5, 2003, the Senate rejected the Boxer amendment by a vote of 38-57 (Senate roll call vote 208). YES is the pro-environment vote. The House energy bill included a provision that exempted not only renewable fuels and fuel additive producers from liability but also exempted producers of the fuel additive MTBE, which has contaminated groundwater nationwide and is the subject of numerous lawsuits. The House-Senate conference report included the broader language of the House bill. The conference report passed the House in November 2003, but at press time had not passed the Senate.