Letters To The Editor


September 16, 2004

Liability limits for MTBE boost energy security

The Sun's Sept. 9 editorial regarding methyl tertiary butyl ether ("Subsidizing polluters") echoes many of the same mistakes made in its earlier editorial on the same subject ("Bad water," July 12).

First, The Sun is wrong to call MTBE "cancer-causing." MTBE has been extensively researched over the years, and no one, including the World Health Organization's agency that classifies carcinogens, has found that MTBE causes cancer in humans.

Second, the limited liability provision in the energy bill would not offer protection against MTBE lawsuits in which negligence or other traditional claims are made. That means anyone found guilty of negligent handling of MTBE would remain liable.

The limited liability provision in the energy bill provision affects only "defective product" claims that are unfounded in fact and which actually delay cleanup of MTBE-impacted sites.

Third, the $29 billion figure The Sun cites for the cost of MTBE cleanup has no basis in fact. That figure was developed by consultants to plaintiffs' lawyers in an MTBE case who had a strong incentive to advocate a total cost figure well in excess of reality.

Finally, both Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency were fully aware that the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 would result in widespread MTBE use. No other viable option was available to satisfy the legislation's special oxygenation requirements for gasoline in areas with significant air quality problems.

Refiners agree that American consumers deserve secure water and energy supplies. The comprehensive energy legislation with its limited MTBE provision is a step in the right direction to attain those goals.

Bob Slaughter


The writer is president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

Make fuel suppliers clean up their mess

As someone with long experience as a research engineer in the chemical industry, I take exception to some of the statements and innuendoes in the editorial "Subsidizing polluters" (Sept. 9).

The Sun calls MTBE "cancer-causing." Strange, the American Cancer Society does not think so, nor does the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It smells bad and tastes bad when it contaminates groundwater used for drinking. But then so do many products that can be found in grocery stores, paint stores and hardware stores.

MTBE is added to gasoline, at government directive, to reduce harmful emissions from vehicle engines, thus making our air safer to breath. It obviously should not get into our water supplies.

The problem is that fuel providers have allowed fuel and fuel vapors to leak into the environment so that the MTBE mingles with, and dissolves in, water supplies. Existing leaks should be cleaned up and future leaks prevented.

The Sun is right that the taxpayers should not be held liable for this cleanup, but then neither should the MTBE producers be. They do earn money producing this environment-protecting product, but they clearly are not responsible for its mishandling.

The fuel providers, however, are responsible. They should be motivated to provide a satisfactory solution.

Sidney Rankin


Stern standards ruin fun of learning

Mike Bowler was right on target when he observed, "We're a society obsessed with quantifiable learning results, the earlier the better" ("Forget the flashcards, remember imagination," Sept. 12).

One need only look as far as Maryland's content standards to realize that old-fashioned fun and fantasy is quickly becoming a scarce commodity in Maryland kindergartens.

Consider the kindergarten "economics" guidelines spelled out in Maryland's official Voluntary State Curriculum: "Identify that resources are used to make products (a) Recognize human resources as workers."

Since when does business school jargon naturally follow potty training and Winnie the Pooh?

At least Fred Rogers didn't live to see how the "standards movement" has ravaged the kindergarten experience -- it would have broken his heart.

Sue Allison


The writer is the coordinator of Marylanders Against High-Stakes Testing.

Questioning priorities of Towson University

Towson University has cut its participation in the Baltimore Collegetown Network shuttle, which has been used by thousands of university students and employees ("Towson University drops shuttle service that drove students around area for free," Sept 9).

Towson President Robert L. Caret explains that "you have to figure out where to trim," but a little context is needed to clarify his priorities.

The university has just built a multistory parking lot at a huge expense, which comes in addition to the vast cost of maintaining, administering and policing its other facilities for cars. It even runs its own shuttles between parking lots and classes.

By contrast, after "trimming" the modest cost of the Collegetown shuttle, the university's expenditure on off-campus mass transit is now down to zero.

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