Search Site
New Jersey Legislators recently voted to ban

May 2, 2005

Smog Settles over the MTBE Issue

By Quinn, William T.
State Senator

Environmentalists and farmers part company over banning a possible carcinogen

Legislators in Trenton were hit with a barrage of conflicting views last week on whether New Jersey should join the 19 states that have already banned the use of MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) as a gasoline additive.

Refiners started adding MTBE to gasoline sold in New Jersey and other states with high levels of air pollution in the 1990s to help oxygenate the fuel so it would burn more efficiently and reduce tailpipe emissions.

But as the substance has been detected seeping into water systems around the country, concerns that it may be a carcinogen have prompted states that include New York and Connecticut to ban its use in fuels sold there.

Environmental groups mostly oppose banning MTBE in New Jersey, arguing that removing it from gasoline will increase air pollution. The oil industry has been neutral while the New Jersey Farm Bureau has been strongly supportive. Farmers hope that banning the substance would cause gasoline refiners to turn to ethanol as a substitute, creating new demand for corn crops.

Despite the lack of consensus, state Senator Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), the sponsor of the bill (S-2018) to ban MTBE in gasoline sold in New Jersey by 2008, remains optimistic about moving it forward this year. Sweeney and co-sponsor Henry McNamara (R-Bergen) will need one more senator to join them to move the bill out of the five-member Senate Environment Committee.

“I don’t think there is any argument that MTBE does pollute our water,” says Sweeney. ” New Jersey has 430 contamination hits [in wells]. It’s a serious issue; it’s not going away.”

But committee chair Robert Smith (D-Middlesex) isn’t so sure the bill will advance. “My belief is it’s going to be difficult. It’s not clear cut,” Smith says.

Meanwhile, controversy roiled Washington last week over a provision in the energy bill the House passed last month that would give MTBE makers immunity from liability suits that claim they sell an unsafe and defective product.

The immunity provision is strongly backed by House Majority Leader Tom Delay of Texas, the home of most MTBE producers. But it is strongly opposed by environmental groups and many water companies. If MTBE makers are left off the hook, water firms fear they will have to shoulder more of the cost of closing down wells or adding expensive treatment equipment to deal with MTBE contamination in ground water.

According to the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., MTBE has already been detected in water systems serving 4.7 million New Jersey residents. In addition, the environmental group says MTBE has been found in 1,861 water systems serving 45 million people in 29 states. Most experts believe it has gotten into ground water from leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.

Health concerns have prompted a wave of lawsuits by water companies, municipalities, and individuals against MTBE producers. Stuart Lieberman of the Princeton law firm of Lieberman Blecher & Sinkevich has brought some of those suits. He supports a ban on MTBE in New Jersey and describes the idea of granting MTBE producers immunity against suits as a “radically bad decision.” However, he notes, “There are strong lobbies on all sides of this issue.”

“I don’t think there is any argument that MTBE does pollute our water.”

Stephen Sweeney
State Senator
email [email protected]

Our Attorneys

Recent Twitter Posts

  • U.S. Supreme Court will hear PennEast Pipeline appeal of New Jersey eminent domain dispute.
    3 weeks ago
  • Fishing to be allowed in future wind farm off the coast of Atlantic City.
    1 month ago
  • New Jersey Economic Development Authority approves pilot program to replace diesel trucks with electric vehicles in…
    1 month ago
  • New Jersey sues the Federal Government over PFAS contamination at military bases.
    1 month ago

Recent Blog Posts

San Diego Receives Federal Funding to Fight Mexican Sewage

San Diego has just received substantial federal funding from the EPA to address a chronic problem: raw sewage coming from Tijuana Mexico. That sewage has been migrating over the border
Read More
San Diego Receives Federal Funding to Fight Mexican Sewage

New Jersey Supreme Court rules for NJ Transit in insurance claim for damages due to Superstorm Sandy

A New Jersey Supreme Court opinion issued on January 27, 2021 affirmed an Appellate Division decision in favor of NJ Transit over its insurers. In 2012, when Superstorm Sandy hit
Read More
New Jersey Supreme Court rules for NJ Transit in insurance claim for damages due to Superstorm Sandy

New York and New Jersey lawmakers make attempts to combat increasing recycling problem

New York and New Jersey have recently been making legislative efforts to find a solution to their share of the United States’ increasing recycling problem. In January 2018, China halted
Read More
New York and New Jersey lawmakers make attempts to combat increasing recycling problem

Lawsuit filed over Florida’s wetlands delegation

Several environment organizations have filed suit challenging the EPA’s relinquishment of control over wetlands in Florida. Many have criticized the manner in which Florida has historically regulated wetlands alleging that
Read More
Lawsuit filed over Florida’s wetlands delegation

In the media

  • Gulf Coast Town Center facing foreclosure

    Naples Daily News, September 16, 2015

    Wells Fargo filed a lawsuit Sept. 8 against an affiliate of CBL & Associates, the owners of the decadeold, 1.2 million-square-foot mall in south Fort Myers for a $190.9 million unpaid loan. The center has 94 stores on 204 acres, with such anchors as Super Target, Belk, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Marshalls and Costco...

    Read More
  • Town liable for private company's leaking underground tanks, court rules Jul 26, 2017

    CRANFORD -- A couple that owned a businesses in town and became sick from leaking underground tanks owned by an adjacent business can sue the township for damages because the tanks were partially ...

    Read More
  • Dark Waters: How a Class Action Catapulted NJ to Forefront of 'Forever Chemicals' Battle

    NJ Law Journal Jan 09, 2020

    As property owners become increasingly aware of PFAS contamination, and as individuals exposed to PFAS learn of the health risks associated with exposure, liability will likely affect entire supply chains.

    Read More
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
Contact Our Firm

Quick Contact Form