(June 5) In the face of a critical-use exemption process they said has failed them, agricultural leaders testifying June 3 before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce pleaded with members of Congress to prevent a scheduled phaseout of methyl bromide by 2005.

The planned phaseout of the ozone-depleting chemical under the Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol is in process, with this year’s use in the U.S. restricted to 30% of 1991 baseline levels.

The phaseout, combined with an unresponsive critical-use exemption application process, will cause economic disruption to American farmers and will make them less able to compete internationally, said Reggie Brown, chairman of the Crop Protection Coalition and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, Orlando.

“This is a wreck waiting to happen,” he said.

Brown said there are critical uses of methyl bromide where a good alternative is not available, including its use as a pre-plant soil fumigant, post-harvest commodity treatment and structural treatment of processing and storage facilities.

He noted the U.S. government recommended approval of about 22 million pounds of methyl bromide under the critical-use exemption process, or about 10,000 metric tons.

Brown said the exemption process might have worked if it ended with the U.S. government.

However, further steps required in obtaining an exemption mandate that the U.S. government forward the approved applications to the Montreal Protocol, triggering a review by that body’s Methyl Bromide Technology Options Committee.

The results of that review, which occurred in May, were not disclosed.

Brown said the Crop Protection Coalition is not advocating an end to the phaseout of methyl bromide, but rather a delay.

“We believe the phaseout date should be extended for all parties under the Montreal Protocol until 2010,” he said, adding that freezing methyl bromide production at 50% of the 1991 baseline is appropriate.

Brown was one of several representatives of agriculture interests to testify.

Officials from the Bush administration, including representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department and the Agriculture Department also testified.

On June 4, Brown said the Bush administration was hopeful it would be able to win approval for all applications by November. However, industry leaders and some members of Congress are skeptical.

Rebeckah Freeman, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, Washington, D.C., said June 4 she came away from the committee hearing disappointed in the response of administration officials.

Freeman said the officials insisted they can help American agriculture get more critical-use exemption requests approved, but she said the track record isn’t encouraging.

Freeman said the White House may have until November, when the parties of the Montreal Protocol meet next, to improve the U.S. position.

After that, she said Congress could get involved, possibly by setting allowable methyl bromide limits ranging from 30% to 50% of 1991 baseline levels.

Freeman said U.S. agricultural leaders are upset that other countries that applied for critical-use exemptions for methyl bromide had greater success in winning exemptions.

France, for example, submitted request for exemptions that were far less documented than the U.S. but received approvals for 80% of their requests, Freeman said.

The U.S., with 50 groups applying for critical use examples, submitted 6,000 pages of comments.

“We got basically 10% of what we asked for,” he said.

She said the international bias against the U.S. works against U.S. farmers.