House and Senate conferees abandoned giving makers of the gasoline additive MTBE liability protection against environmental lawsuits on Sunday, removing the major roadblock to enactment of broad energy legislation.
Senate negotiators rejected a House proposal for an $11.4 billion MTBE cleanup fund that House Republicans had hoped would serve as a compromise and still provide the liability shield to the oil industry.
But Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said "the proposal has not been accepted by the Senate" and that he would offer another MTBE proposal on Monday.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., leader of the Senate energy negotiating team, said while some MTBE issues were still being discussed, those did not include a cleanup fund, nor liability protection.
"Those are gone," Domenici told reporters as the House-Senate conferees held an unusual Sunday session in hopes of completing work on a sweeping energy bill by Monday night.
The legal protections have been championed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), whose state is one of the main producers of the additive. Industry officials have contended that Congress was responsible for promoting the use of MTBE by requiring cleaner-burning gasoline in the nation's smoggiest regions.