Bromide Loophole for U.S. Prolongs Ozone Hole
July 29, 2005
On July 1, 2005 a dozen
nations agreed under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete
the Ozone Layer to reduce exemptions for "critical use" of
methyl bromide by 20% in 2006. Methyl bromide is a powerful ozone depleting
chemical, 50 times more destructive to the ozone layer than chlorine
from CFCs (chloroflurocarbons), the other major class of chemicals targeted
by the treaty.
In 1987, sixteen industrial
nations, including the U.S., agreed under the Protocol to end all use
of methyl bromide by 2005, and developing countries agreed to end use
in 2015. Instead, use of methyl bromide as a soil fumigant pesticide
has increased in the U.S.
The 20% reduction appears
to be an environmental victory, but in fact, U.S. consumption of methyl
bromide rose so steeply in 2005 that the 20% "reduction" represents
an increase over 2002-2004 levels. The U.S. walked into the negotiations
for 2006 "critical use" exemptions requesting exemptions to
use 37% of its 1991 baseline number (set at 25,528 metric tons), despite
the fact that users in the U.S. in 2002 got by with less than 30% of
the baseline. The Parties awarded the U.S. 32% of the 1991 base, and
have indicated they will hold nations to 29% of baseline numbers in
2007. That represents a release in the U.S.
alone, of 7,403 metric tons of methyl bromide into the atmosphere, a
significant "loophole" that serves to prolong the hole in
In 1994, the United
Nations determined that elimination of methyl bromide was the most significant
remaining action that nations could take to impact ozone depletion in
the next decade. The Montreal Protocol has nearly eliminated CFCs and
until recently, had sharply reduced methyl bromide use. By 2003, use
and release of methyl bromide had fallen to 30% of 1991 baseline levels
in many nations, including the U.S., which met that target in 2002,
a full year ahead of schedule.
But in 2004 the Bush
administration began to pressure for "critical use" exemptions
(permission to continue using a substance) for methyl bromide, primarily
as a pre-plant fumigant for tomato growers in Florida and strawberry
producers in California. For the treaty's first decade, critical use
exemptions were confined to needs based on national security or medical
uses where there was no alternative, but in 1997 the Parties to the
Protocol allowed economic considerations to be a factor to justify an
exemption for use of methyl bromide.
including PAN North America, argued at the time that inclusion of economic
challenges would open the door to increased use of methyl bromide as
a soil fumigation pesticide. Unfortunately, that is exactly what has
Instead of completing
the methyl bromide phaseout as promised in 2005, sixteen nations, lead
by the U.S., asked for and were granted exemptions for use of 16,050
metric tons in 2005. The U.S. exemptions totaled 9,500 metric tons and
were by far the largest, allowing the nation's use in 2005 to increase.
In July 2005 the Parties recommended approval of 13,466 metric tons
of methyl bromide for "critical use" in the developed nations
in 2006. Allotments were modest for Australia (9.25 tons); Canada (2
tons) and Japan (75 tons). The United States was allowed 8,075 tons;
and PAN has learned that the Administration is already working on a
request to continue exemptions in 2007.
Another action taken
by the Parties in July was aimed, according to David Doniger of Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC), at the U.S. indulgence towards its
users of methyl bromide. It mandated that each nation should "renew
its commitment to ensure" that critical uses are, in fact, critical.
Doniger argues that the U.S. has done exactly the opposite: "When
the U.S. requested critical use exemptions in 2005, it made no distinction
between critical and non critical users.
Everyone in the U.S.
using methyl bromide in 2003 used 15% less than the subgroup of so-called
critical users in 2005." In December of 2004 NRDC sued the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency over its handling of the methyl bromide
critical use exemptions; that case is likely to be heard in the fall.
For more information
see the website for the UN Environmental Programme Ozone Secretariat,
The PANNA website contains
extensive resources and fact sheets on methyl bromide's use for soil
Sources: UNEP Report
of Second Extraordinary Meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol
on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Advance Copy, July 1, 2005,
p.4; Associated Press, July 2, 2005; Background, Critical Use Exemptions
for Access to Methyl Bromide, Dept of the Environment & Heritage,
PANUPS, December 10, 2004, April 5, 2004; Methyl Bromide Briefing Kit,
Methyl Bromide Alternatives Network, PANNA website;