By CHRIS DOLMETSCH and ZAIN SHAUK
BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil are among two dozen US refiners
sued by Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell and accused
of polluting the states groundwater with a gasoline
Sorrell filed the case Thursday in state court in Montpelier,
the capital. The refiners promoted, marketed and distributed
gasoline containing the additive Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether,
or MTBE, knowing that it posed unprecedented
risks to groundwater, Sorrells office said in a
These companies knew years ago that MTBE was a uniquely
bad actor in groundwater, and they ignored the risks and sold
it anyway, Sorrell said. This lawsuit is about
holding them accountable and ensuring that they -- and not
Vermonters -- pay to clean up our groundwater.
The suit is one of scores of claims filed by cities, states
and individuals around the US against oil refiners, retailers
and distributors over MTBE. The US Supreme Court in April
upheld a jurys $104.7 million damage award against
ExxonMobil for contaminating New York City wells with the
New York sued oil companies in 2003, alleging they knew the
additive would pollute groundwater. ExxonMobil argued that
state laws are pre-empted by the federal Clean Air Act, which
required oil companies to reformulate gasoline to reduce air
pollution from vehicle emissions. Oil companies added MTBE to
make it burn more efficiently.
An ExxonMobil spokesman, Todd Spitler, said the company is
reviewing the states claims. The foundation of MTBE
litigation is flawed because companies are being held liable
for including oxygenates in gasoline that were required by
Congress and approved by regulators, he said by e-mail.
Companies that complied with the law and regulations to
blend approved oxygenates in gasoline should not be held
liable simply for following a government mandate,
There hasnt been a single recorded case of
anyones becoming sick from MTBE water contamination, he
said. The company takes seriously its responsibility to
operate in an environmentally sound manner and
works hard to protect the health and safety of the
communities where it operates, he said.
A Chevron spokesman, Braden Reddall, said the company will
review the complaint once we are served.
Carlton Carroll, an American Petroleum Institute (API)
spokesman, declined to comment on the suit. Diana Cronan, a
spokeswoman for the American Fuel & Petrochemical
, didnt immediately respond to requests for comment.
While MTBE is banned as a gasoline additive in Vermont, the
states Agency of Natural Resources continues to oversee
remediation of past releases and keeps finding new
contaminated wells, according to Sorrells office.
The state claims violations of its Groundwater Protection Act
and alleges that the refiners used MTBE as an additive
despite knowing it was hazardous and would pollute
groundwater, and that they failed to inform state regulators,
resellers or consumers of the hazards and how to mitigate