Environmental brief ~ Judge rules MTBE lawsuits can proceed against oil companies

[JURIST] In Thursday's environmental law news, US District Judge Shira Scheindlin has ruled [text, PDF] that some 80 lawsuits can proceed against oil companies claiming that a gasoline additive, methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) [EPA factpage], contaminated groundwater. The suits allege that the oil companies contaminated wells and underground aquifers across the country by adding MTBE to gasoline as a way to reduce air pollution. The suits were brought by a number of water providers, towns, counties, cities, and states. Oil companies, including Exxon Mobil [company website] and Lyondell Chemical [company website], have argued that the lawsuits are unfair and that those directly responsible for any spills should be held liable, not the makers of the product. First filed in state courts, the suits were consolidated last year in federal court in New York. The New York Times has more.

In other news,

  • The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005 [text] was introduced in the Senate earlier this week, co-sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-PA, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT. The bill would bar asbestos victims from suing companies for damages and instead point them to a $140 billion trust fund set up by the government and consisting of money given by a number of asbestos-defendant companies. Critics of the bill say that the pre-determined compensation for different illnesses denies victims their day in court, and that the bill unfairly caps the recoverable attorney's fees for individual claims. The House of Representatives is currently considering a similar bill [text]. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has more.

  • The Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill [text] Wednesday that would adopt most of California's vehicle-emission standards [text,PDF]. The House had passed a prior version of the bill last month which adopted the new California vehicle-emission standards in their entirety, but the bill was amended when it got to the Senate. The amended version includes changes such as banning the purchase of cars from out of state that don't meet the new standards and removing the California requirement that 10 percent of new vehicles meet a zero-emissions standard. Critics of the bill argue that the State is only allowed to follow either the federal vehicle-emission standards or the California standards but cannot cherry-pick bits and pieces from them. If signed by the Governor, the measures will take effect beginning with the 2009 model year and will hinge on the neighboring state of Oregon also adopting the new standards. AP has the full story.

  • As already reported in JURIST's Paper Chase, the House voted late yesterday to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of a broad energy bill. A final vote on the energy legislation is expected by the House today.


 

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