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U.S. farmers want to be able to keep using methyl bromide
WASHINGTON -- California farmers may get more opportunities to use methyl bromide despite international plans to phase out the chemical, Bush administration officials said .
Under the Montreal Protocol, agreed to by more than 180 countries, production and use of ozone-depleting chemicals, including methyl bromide, are being phased out. Farmers say no good alternative to the pesticide has yet been found despite $146 million in Agriculture Department research.
"Either take the steps necessary to renegotiate the Montreal Protocol as soon as possible, or provide a legislative fix freezing the phase-out," Bill Pauli, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, urged a House panel on Tuesday. The phase-out is now set for 2005.
That's a problem for California growers, who value methyl bromide as a highly effective fumigant used on more than 100 crops. The state's farmers in 2001 applied 6.6 million pounds to 60,000 acres, and it ranked fourth among pesticides used in the state.
The use of methyl bromide is falling. In California, for instance, Department of Pesticide Regulation records show methyl bromide use was cut in half between 1998 and 2001.
At the hearing of the House energy and air quality subcommittee, administration officials showed little enthusiasm for an outright renegotiation of the 1987 treaty.
If the treaty remains intact, farmers suggest Congress can at least slow things down.
Previous legislative efforts to extend the phase-out have not been successful, but Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of Oceanside suggested Tuesday that an additional growing season could be tacked on. More aggressive proposals would extend the deadline to 2010 for all countries.
The treaty allows countries to seek "critical-use exemptions" that permit limited methyl bromide use even after the 2005 deadline. The Bush administration sought exemptions covering 16 uses, including strawberry and walnut crops and food processing.
The proposal would have pegged methyl bromide use to about 39 percent of what the United States used in 1991. Instead, Montreal Protocol administrators recommend approval of exemptions covering about 10 percent of the 1991 usage -- about 21 million pounds nationwide.
"At this rate, only a handful of commodities will receive exemptions," complained Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.
Administration officials stressed that the final decisions on exemptions won't be made until a mid-November meeting Kenya.
David Donziger, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said "the Bush administration may try to bull its way through to approval of the entire request, putting politics and special interests first and public health and international cooperation last."
MGR Archive 26.6.2003
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