Eben Burnham-Snyder, 202/513-6254 or 202/277-1045 (cell)
Jon Coifman, 202/289-2404 or 202/320-8026 (cell)
Groups Square Off on Capitol Hill as Industry Exploits Unilateralist Mood in White House
WASHINGTON (June 3, 2003) -- The Bush administration has joined with pesticide makers and big agribusinesses to reverse the phase-out of a dangerous chemical currently required under the successful treaty protecting the Earth's ozone layer. Appealing to the unilateralist mood of the administration, industry groups are trying to undermine the 1987 Montreal Protocol in order to increase use of methyl bromide, the most potent ozone-depleting chemical still in widespread use.
Business and environmental groups are testifying today in a congressional hearing before the House Energy & Commerce Committee over the White House attack on the pioneering environmental accord.
"The Bush administration is thumbing its nose at the world's most successful environmental treaty in order to protect a dangerous pesticide," said David Doniger, Climate Center policy director at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "Their plan will line the pockets of big pesticide companies and agribusiness interests, raise cancer risks for millions of Americans and punish the responsible growers who invested time and money to find safer alternatives."
Besides destroying the ozone layer -- which shields the planet from dangerous ultraviolet radiation -- the National Cancer Institute has linked methyl bromide to increased rates of prostate cancer among farm workers and other pesticide handlers.
Under the treaty, the U.S. began phasing out methyl bromide a decade ago. Methyl bromide production is supposed to end after December 31, 2004, except for "critical uses" for which there are no safer alternatives. Even these exemptions are limited to 30 percent of the baseline production level, however.
But the administration has submitted "critical use" requests that are one third higher than treaty limits allow, effectively violating the agreement, according to NRDC. Pesticide and agribusiness interests are pressing for legislation that would reverse the phase-out, allowing methyl bromide production to grow again. This would also place the U.S. in violation of the treaty.
Other pesticides and crop management techniques are available to eliminate most of the methyl bromide still in use and stop damaging the ozone layer. Backtracking on the phase-out would punish responsible growers who invested time and money developing safer ways to operate without using the compound on their farms.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.