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Bush Seeks To Undo Methyl Bromide Phase-Out at March 24 Meeting
(Beyond Pesticides, March 22, 2004)
The Bush Administration, claiming support for the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, is headed for the March 24-26, 2004 "extraordinary" meeting of the Montreal Protocol to advocate for methyl bromide exemptions from the Protocol's control measures. See previous Daily News story. Despite a 70 percent cut in methyl bromide production in industrialized countries since 1999 under the treaty, the Bush administration has made proposals that would reverse these gains and cause methyl bromide production and use to start rising again.

The Montreal Protocol of 1987 took over from the Vienna Convention of 1985 in adopting an agreement to take "appropriate measures to protect human health and the environment against adverse effects resulting or likely to result from human activities which modify or are like to modify the Ozone Layer." Elimination of methyl bromide, one of the most potent ozone depleters, is central to the agreement. Delegates at the last "meeting of the parties" (MOP-15) in Nairobi, Kenya could not reach agreement on four items relating to methyl bromide: (i) nominations for critical-use exemptions (CUEs); (ii) conditions for granting CUEs; (iii) further specific interim reductions; and, (iv) consideration of the Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee's work procedures relating to the evaluation of CUEs nominations. These items will be addressed in an extraordinary MOP that will be held in Montreal, Canada, from 24-26 March 2004.

Concerns that the Earth's stratospheric ozone layer could be at risk from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other anthropogenic substances were first raised in the early 1970s. At that time, scientists warned that the release of these substances into the atmosphere could deplete the ozone layer, thus hindering its ability to prevent harmful ultraviolet (UV-B) rays from reaching the Earth. This would adversely affect ocean ecosystems, agricultural productivity and animal populations, as well as harm humans through higher rates of skin cancers, cataracts and weakened immune systems. In response to this growing concern, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) convened a conference in March 1977 that adopted a World Plan of Action on the Ozone Layer and established a Coordinating Committee to guide future international action.

In May 1981, the UNEP Governing Council launched negotiations on an international agreement to protect the ozone layer and in March 1985, the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer was adopted. The Convention called for cooperation on monitoring, research and data exchange, but did not impose obligations to reduce the use of ODS. To date, the Convention has 185 Parties.

Efforts to negotiate binding obligations on ozone depleting substances (ODS) continued, leading to the adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in September 1987. The Montreal Protocol introduced control measures for some CFCs and halons for developed countries (non-Article 5 Parties). Developing countries (Article 5 Parties) were granted a grace period allowing them to increase their use of these ODS before taking on commitments. To date, the Protocol has 184 Parties. Since 1987, several amendments and adjustments to the Protocol have been adopted, with amendments adding new obligations and additional ODS, and adjustments tightening existing control schedules. Amendments require ratification by a defined number of Parties before they enter into force, while adjustments enter into force automatically.

Assessment Panel Reports: Technology and Economic Assessment Panel (TEAP) 2002 Synthesis Report: Steven Anderson, TEAP Co-Chair, presented the TEAP synthesis report that summarizes the policy-relevant findings of the separate reports of its Technical Options Committees (TOCs). He said the Montreal Protocol is effective in assisting the recovery of the ozone layer, but according to observations, it will remain vulnerable. Anderson noted that ODS phase-out can be achieved by 2005 in non-Article 5 Parties, but this would be costly and could increase energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Recalling the availability of suitable alternatives for methyl bromide, he said the phase-out has been prolonged by the abundant supply of methyl bromide. He advised the developed countries to improve incentives for the commercialization of methyl bromide alternatives, and said that all Parties should plan for a full phase-out in three to six years.

Critics Say U.S. Seeking to Undermine Treaty
At the Nairobi meeting, the U.S. raised issues that would delay the phase-out of methyl bromide under the timetable agreed to in the Montreal Protocol.

Kathryn Schultz, writing for Grist Magazine, in an article entitled "The loophole in the ozone layer: How many international treaties can one administration sabotage?" wrote the following:

"The good news is that the European Union and the developing world wouldn't stand for it. The bad news is that I can't find an iota of evidence that the Bush administration gives a damn what the rest of the world stands for. Witness the Nairobi meeting: Slated as a routine check-in to assess and adjust the treaty's efficacy in repairing the ozone layer, it was commandeered by the U.S. and turned into a forum for undoing more than 15 years of steady progress toward that goal. Flummoxed by the American delegation's insistence on violating the terms of the treaty (and, incidentally, of the federal Clean Air Act), the negotiators agreed to revisit the issue in an "extraordinary meeting" to be held in Montreal in March -- the first time in the history of the protocol such a meeting has been necessary."

"Extraordinary indeed. What is the Bush administration thinking? Well, this administration has a one-track mind, so that question is answered easily enough: It's thinking about its campaign donors. Methyl bromide is the fumigant of choice for growing, storing, and shipping many agricultural products, notably strawberries, tomatoes, ginger, sweet potatoes, and turf grass (the stuff used on golf courses). It's also the favored substance for fumigating agricultural imports to destroy any invasive species that might have come along for the ride. (Because of that use, the White House has billed its support of methyl bromide as good for the environment, but enviros aren't buying it.) Both methyl bromide manufacturers and agribusiness have donated generously to the Bush campaign, as journalist Glenn Scherer documented in an August Salon article.Thus the backtracking on the Montreal Protocol shares the same politico-pecuniary motivation as every other environmental rollback on this administration's record, notably its withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty on climate change."

"But in meddling with the Montreal Protocol, the Bush administration may have overreached. It's one thing to stonewall about addressing a complicated issue (climate change) involving the single most important commodity of modern life (energy). It's another thing to deliberately undo years of demonstrable progress on a well-known issue in order to curry favor with an industry that has had years to come up with safer alternatives. If the other countries of the world stand strong in March, environmentalists should be looking at a win-win situation. Either the Bush administration will have to suck it up, abide by the methyl bromide restrictions, and acknowledge that it overstepped this time -- or it will have to walk away from the treaty entirely, thereby presenting the environmental movement (and the entire progressive community) with a prime opportunity for pillorying."

Organic Growers Organize to Stop Rollback on Methyl Bromide
Vanessa Bogenhom, an organic strawberry, raspberry and vegetable grower from Watsonville, California, and chair of the board of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), ha successfully grown strawberries using organic methods for the last six years. " I strongly believe that methyl bromide can be phased out of U.S. agriculture with no negative effects on farmers or consumers. I, and many other organic growers, have proven that strawberries can be grown without the pesticide, resulting in beautiful, delicious fruit that consumers scramble for. This ozone destroying chemical must be eliminated," said Bogenholm. Coincidentally, her first project as a researcher for the Santa Cruz County (CA) Agricultural Extension Service 16 years ago was to research methyl bromide alternatives.

Recent data from California's Department of Pesticide Regulation show that methyl bromide use in strawberries - one of the biggest exemption requests - declined 11 percent from 2000 to 2001, and another 2 percent in 2002. The 2005 exemption request for California strawberries exceeds the total amount actually used in 2002.

Conventional Growers Pushing for Ramping Methyl Bromide Use
In June, 2003, the American Farm Bureau Federation asserted that the "continued availability" of methyl bromide is "critical for many" U.S. Farmers and called on Congress and the administration to provide consumers and farmers with "much-needed relief" from the 2005 scheduled phase-out of the fumigant. Testifying before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli said that despite agriculture's reduced use of methyl brojide since 1999, no cost-effective, reliable or environmentally-friendly alternative has been developed. Pauli characterized losses to strawberry and other fruit and vegetable crops in California Florida to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if the phase-out to were to take place.

ACTION: Let the Bush Administration know that you think it should NOT delay the phase-out of methyl bromide and promote the rollback of public health and environmental protection under the Montreal Protocol. Send an email to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and to [email protected] Also let your elected members of Congress know how you feel. Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative.