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Pennsylvania Sues Oil Companies for Groundwater Pollution

Pennsylvania accused oil companies of polluting the state’s groundwater with a gasoline additive, joining states including New York, Vermont and New Hampshire that have brought similar lawsuits.

Two complaints filed today in state court seek damages for cleaning up groundwater tainted by Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether, or MTBE, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s office said in a statement that didn’t name the companies being sued. The lawsuits couldn’t immediately be verified in court records in Philadelphia.

“MTBE-related spills over the past 20 years have cost Pennsylvania hundreds of millions of dollars,” James Schultz, general counsel for the governor, said in the statement. “We cannot take the health of Pennsylvania’s waters for granted and their protection must remain our utmost priority.”

The Pennsylvania lawsuits follow of scores of claims filed by cities, states and individuals around the U.S. against oil refiners, retailers and distributors over MTBE. BP Plc, Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. were among two dozen U.S. refiners sued this month by Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell over alleged MTBE pollution.

The U.S. Supreme Court in April upheld a jury’s $104.7 million damage award against Exxon Mobil for contaminating New York City wells with the additive.

New York sued oil companies in 2003, alleging they knew the additive would pollute groundwater. Exxon Mobil had 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.

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