Gregg now in "super-secret" negotiations with MTBE-backers

According to Roll Call, Judd Gregg is now engaged in "super-secret" negotiations with Joe Barton (the chair of Bass's energy committee) about how to shield MTBE makers from cleanup liability:

"New Hampshire Republicans and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) continue super-secret talks about how to deal with the makers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE . . Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) was reviewing Barton's latest proposal and planned to present a counteroffer."

A Burst of Nervous Energy
By Emily Pierce, Roll Call Staff
July 19, 2005
Meanwhile, House and Senate energy conferees will begin slogging through the energy bill this week, as New Hampshire Republicans and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Joe Barton (R-Texas) continue super-secret talks about how to deal with the makers of the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE.
Barton inserted a provision in the House-passed energy bill that would shield MTBE manufacturers from most lawsuits. However, a similar provision in a 2003 energy bill conference report caused many Senate Democrats and Northeastern Republicans to successfully filibuster the measure.
Now, Barton is proposing a Congressionally authorized fund to pay for the cleanup of MTBE in groundwater - a problem particularly common in the Northeast that makes water supplies undrinkable. While negotiations have miraculously been kept hush-hush, Senate sources said Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) was reviewing Barton's latest proposal and planned to present a counteroffer. Gregg spokeswoman Erin Rath did not confirm that but did say the Granite State Republican "continues to work on this issue, but at this point, I don't have any specifics." Similarly, a Barton spokeswoman would say only that no agreement on MTBE has been reached.
Marnie Funk, spokeswoman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), said her boss hopes that as the conference committee tackles other issues, it will build "momentum to some sort of MTBE deal."
Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said House leaders are optimistic that the entire energy bill will be ready for approval before the August recess.
"We would like our Members to go home with a highway bill and an energy bill to talk about," Bonjean said.
But even if Gregg agrees to create some sort of MTBE cleanup fund, thereby removing a potential filibuster magnet, adding such a provision to the energy bill conference report could give Senate opponents a weighty weapon - a 60-vote budget point of order. If inclusion of the fund violates the five-year budget passed earlier this year, any Senator could bring such a point of order, and if 41 or more Senators opposed the provision, it would be stricken from the conference report.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Republicans, however, say they will not let the lack of a deal on MTBE foil the passage of the larger energy policy bill this time around.
"We're not going to let Members of Congress in their failure to compromise crater the whole energy package," Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a Senate energy bill conferee, said last week in a veiled reference to Barton and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).