Executive Council approves $22.3 million for MTBE cleanup project
New Hampshire is kicking off a $22.3 million program to locate and clean up wells contaminated with the gasoline additive MTBE.
The project, which was approved, 4-0, yesterday by the Executive Council, uses some of the $81.6 million available to the state from court-approved settlements with companies that made or marketed gasoline containing MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether, a gasoline additive the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now considers a “potential human carcinogen at high doses.”
MTBE was banned by New Hampshire in 2007, four years after the state went to court seeking damages to help defray the cost of cleaning up associated groundwater contamination.
The $81.6 million – what’s left from legal settlements after administrative and legal costs were deducted – is restricted and can only be used for cleanup efforts, said Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice.
That figure doesn’t include the $236 million in damages from Exxon Mobil Corp. that a jury awarded in April after the longest state trial in New Hampshire history. That case is under appeal, Rice said, and whether the money should be restricted to MTBE cleanup is one of the issues being disputed in court.
The Department of Environmental Services plans to hire five full-time temporary employees and reassign eight positions to create a new 13-person MTBE Remediation Bureau, which will begin testing wells and cleaning up contaminated sites.
The plan approved yesterday appropriates $22.3 million to fund the project over the next year and a half.
Michael Wimsatt, director of the Waste Management Division at DES, said there are about 250,000 private wells in the state and DES can’t test them all with the money available, much less clean up every contaminated site.
“Those funds we don’t believe are adequate to address the whole problem,” he told the council yesterday. “That’s why the plan we’re developing . . . is really designed to address the priority areas we’re really concerned about, high-priority sites where we already know we have remedial work that needs to be done and to identify and sample private wells that we think are most at risk of potentially being impacted by MTBE.”
The Legislature’s Fiscal Committee approved the plan at its Nov. 22 meeting, and the Executive Council approved it yesterday after a brief discussion.
Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat, said the cleanup plan “makes a lot of sense.”
And Rice assured the council that it will be able to monitor the program because related contracts must come back for approval, as will spending beyond the current budget biennium, which ends June 30, 2015.
“We will be coming back with additional plans as we progress through this process,” Rice said.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)