With Congress due back in session in less than two weeks, Republican staffers believe they may have reached a compromise on the controversial issue of liability protection for producers of the gasoline additive, methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), that has held up the Senate energy bill since the start of the year.

Republican staff members have been working on a solution to the ticklish MTBE issue throughout the summer, said Marne Funk, a spokesman for Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“We hope we have a solution that… we can get through both the House and the Senate,” she noted, but lawmakers first “have to meet and discuss [it] to see if they want to buy off on it.” Funk declined to provide any details of the proposed solution.

The House-passed energy bill already includes a provision to shield producers from financial liability associated with the manufacturing of the MTBE additive. This protection was strongly supported by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Most producers of MTBE are located along the Texas Gulf Coast.

However Senate Democrats, as well as Republicans from Northeast states, fought off attempts to include a similar MTBE provision in the Senate energy bill, resulting in a stand-off between the two houses. The broad energy measure has been stuck in the Senate for most of the year.

Both the Senate and the House are due to return on Sept. 7. Funk said she did not know when either house would resume debate on energy legislation.

©Copyright 2004 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.