House Hearing on Big Oil's Dream Immunity Bill

The Environment and Energy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing today on the Domestic Fuels Protection Act (H.R.4345). This bill grants sweeping immunity to every entity in the petroleum chain of commerce from fuel designers and distributors to engine manufacturers and vehicle retailers. In fact, although the bill is being sold as renewable fuels legislation, there is a lot more to H.R. 4345 than first appears.

AAJ President Gary M. Paul had this to say about the bill:

This is Big Oil’s dream bill to avoid accountability. This bill grants industry-wide, corporate immunity for leaking underground tanks and defective fuels and fuel mixtures that may cause catastrophic health, environmental and property damage. Corporate immunity undermines the incentive to produce safe products and leaves consumers at greater risk from injuries.

The immunity in this bill is really breathtaking. It provides unprecedented, industry-wide immunity for most commercially available transportation fuels and fuel additives, like E15 but also including MTBE and gasoline containing benzene.

Additionally, despite its name, there is nothing domestic about this bill. The bill is not limited to domestic corporations and will also help foreign corporations evade accountability.

Many groups have voiced opposition to the bill. Chairman of the Subcommittee, Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) was caught off guard by the level of opposition, and he made clear in his comments that he did not think the bill draft was perfect and that he would like to redraft the bill to address some of these concerns.

The witnesses testifying in support of the bill focused their testimony on E15 and the liability issues that would arise from increased use of ethanol. You can read all the witness’s testimony online here.

Ranking member of the full committee, Rep. Waxman (D-CA), mentioned cases of devastating MTBE contamination but reminded the committee that the immunity in the bill would apply to all fuel and fuel additives, including MTBE. He stated in his opening statement:

There are over 1,500 registered fuels and almost 7,500 registered fuel additives. This legislation would remove all liability for harm caused by these fuels and fuel additives. Some of these additives are rarely used because the oil companies understand that they are powerful contaminants and if they enter the ground water, they can do harm. They can damage small engines. They can have an impact on public health. We don’t know on this committee the facts for each of these 9,000 fuels and fuel additives. But under this bill, oil companies can now use them with impunity.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) also voiced her strong opposition to the bill. She asked about the cost of cleaning up MTBE contaminated wells and how that cost would be borne by local taxpayers if local/state governments are prevented from seeking recourse from oil companies.

In addition to AAJ, many groups came out in opposition to the bill. Their letters opposing the bill can be found online here. The groups are:
• AAA
• ActionAid USA
• ACWA, the Association of California Water Agencies
• Alliance for Justice
• American Bakers
• American Meat Institute
• Americans for Limited Government
• Americans for Prosperity
• AMWA, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
• AWWA, the American Water Works Association
• Boat U.S.: Boat Owners Association of the United States
• California Dairy Campaign
• CASA, the California Association of Sanitation Agencies
• Center for Auto Safety
• Center for Justice and Democracy
• Clean Air Task Force
• Clean Water Action
• Competitive Enterprise Institute
• EarthJustice
• Environment America
• Environmental Working Group
• Freedom Action
• Friends of the Earth
• Greenpeace
• Grocery Manufacturers Association
• Milk Producers Council
• National Audubon Society
• National Black Chamber of Commerce
• National Chicken Council
• National Consumers League
• National Council of Chain Restaurants
• National Meat Association
• National Taxpayers Union
• National Turkey Federation
• Natural Resources Defense Council
• NRWA, the National Rural Water Association
• Our Children’s Earth Foundation
• Oxfam America
• Public Citizen
• Sierra Club
• Southeast Milk Inc.
• Southern Environmental Law Center
• Taxpayers for Common Sense
• U.S. PIRG