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Methyl Bromide Working Group

Bromide Baron Rap Sheet #6
Political Ecology Group
March 31st, 1997

Address: 1319 F Street NW, Suite 301, Washington, DC 20004
Chief Lobbyist: Peter G. Sparber, Sparber and Associates
Tel: (202) 737-6327
Fax: (202) 393-4385

Major Business: Represent the "big three" producers of methyl bromide, as well as TriCal Inc., in the U.S. political arena.

Activities: Casting doubt on the broad scientific consensus that methyl bromide poses a serious threat to the stratospheric ozone layer. Directly influencing the political process. Building coalitions with growers to perpetuate methyl bromide use. Negating the existence of alternatives to methyl bromide. Predicting that banning methyl bromide would create an economic disaster.

Operating Budget: Unknown.

Members: Albemarle Corporation, Ameribrom (Dead Sea Bromine), Great Lakes Chemical, TriCal Inc..[1]

Led by the Methyl Bromide Working Group (MBWG) and its chief lobbyist Peter G. Sparber, the Barons of Bromide are working on a number of fronts to undermine the U.S. Clean Air Act and thus to perpetuate the use of methyl bromide indefinitely. The Clean Air Act mandates a U.S. phase-out of methyl bromide by the year 2001.

In 1995, less than a week after it was announced that ozone depletion had reached record levels, Peter Sparber, the chief lobbyist for the Methyl Bromide Working Group wrote to growers that "if we continue to work together, we stand an increasingly good chance of being able to use methyl bromide well beyond the year 2001." Sparber noted that this could be achieved by opening up the Clean Air Act and changing it.[2] The MBWG's efforts have taken a number of forms:

Junk Science

"Scientists are increasingly unsure about the role of methyl bromide in ozone depletion...Early concerns about methyl bromide were overstated," declares the Methyl Bromide Bulletin, published by the MBWG. To reach these "conclusions" of uncertainty, the MBWG spent millions of dollars on a joint study it conducted with the United States Department of Agriculture. The study, unsurprisingly attacked EPA and United Nations findings. According to the MBWG, the joint corporate-government investigation found that "relatively little is known about where methyl bromide comes from...where it goes...and what happens to the methyl bromide which escapes to the atmosphere."[3]

Countering this perspective is a report produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the UN Environment Programme, which was published by the World Meteorological Organization. It estimates that the bromine in methyl bromide is about 50 times more efficient in destroying the stratospheric ozone layer than the chlorine in CFCs. With the phase-out of CFCs underway, the report lists the elimination of methyl bromide emissions "from agricultural, structural, and industrial activities" as being the single most important step that the world's governments can take today to reduce future levels of ozone depletion.[4]

Political Animals

While challenging broad scientific consensus on the impacts of methyl bromide, the MBWG is also quite active on the political front. For instance, a leaked MBWG memorandum, dated September 25, 1996 states that Leon Panetta, then Clinton administration Chief of Staff, had been "helpful" to the MBWG's efforts to roll-back or repeal the methyl bromide phase-out. It also directs members of the MBWG to contact Panetta (who is rumored to be considering running for Governor of California) by phone and letters, arguing that he "must continue to help if we are to succeed." At the very least, this memorandum created the appearance of Chief of Staff Panetta working on behalf of the Bromide Barons to undermine federal regulations of methyl bromide.[5]

Undermining Alternatives

In a document that targets agricultural users of the pesticide its members produce and sell, the Methyl Bromide Working Group asserts that "In the United States and in many other agricultural-exporting nations, growers rely on methyl bromide to produce and process more than 100 vegetables, fruits, grains and fibers. If farmers had effective alternatives, they would use them."[6]

Viable alternatives do, in fact, exist for the vast majority of methyl bromide applications. In fact, the Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee (MBTOC), an international committee of 68 scientists, manufacturers, users, government representatives, and nongovernmental organizations, reported in 1995 that there were "technically feasible" alternatives, "either currently available or at an advanced stage of development," for at least 90 percent of methyl bromide use.[7] Yet, by arguing to growers that methyl bromide stands a fine chance of surviving into the future, the MBWG is creating disincentives for them to explore and invest in these alternatives. This further locks these growers into dependence on the methyl bromide the MBWG members produce and sell.

The MBWG has also argued against a proposed tax on methyl bromide -- a tax levied on all other Class I ozone depleters in the US -- the proceeds from which could be used to further research and develop alternatives.[8] By negating the existence of alternatives and by striving to stymie their development, the MBWG is attempting to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that serves to perpetuate methyl bromide use.

Economic Scare Tactics

The MBWG stresses the impossibility of many forms of agricultural production without methyl bromide. Indeed, it argues that without methyl bromide the end of agriculture as we know it, is near. "The implications are unmistakable. For American agriculture to survive, American farmers must be able to produce increasingly more crops on less land. And for American farmers to compete, the crops they produce must look and taste good to consumers. Without methyl bromide, many growers fear they will neither compete nor survive."[9]

Competition, according to the MBWG and others, such as the United States General Accounting Office, will come from producers in other countries who will have an "unfair advange in international markets for the various agricultural commodities produced with the substance."[10] This specter of international competition has not led the MBWG and the corporations it represents to call for accelerating the international phase-out schedule being developed under the Montreal Protocol -- something that would make sense in terms of human and environmental health, as well as economic "fair play." Rather, the MBWG and the Barons of Bromide use international economic competition as a scare tactic to attempt to roll back the Clean Air Act and harmonize phase-out dates with the Montreal Protocol's later (2010) -- and in the case of the Third World -- still undefined dates.

The hypocrisy of their endeavor is revealed when one understands that these same corporations are simultaneously working together under the guise of the Methyl Bromide Global Coalition in a series of efforts to undermine the Montreal Protocol's ability to phase out methyl bromide. By attempting to play the U.S. Clean Air Act off against the U.N. Montreal Protocol, the MBWG is pursuing a cynical global end-game whose goal it is to undermine environmental controls in both the national and international arenas in order to keep methyl bromide unregulated for as long as possible.


Endnotes

  1. The Methyl Bromide Working Group does not provide a list of its members. We have determined, based on various sources however, that the four companies listed are central, if not the only members of the MBWG.
  2. Peter G. Sparber, MBWG Letter to Methyl Bromide Users, January 17, 1995.
  3. MBWG, "Methyl Bromide Bulletin," Methyl Bromide Working Group, Washington, DC, no date.
  4. NOAA, NASA, UNEP, WMO, Scientific Assesment of Ozone Depletion: 1994, Executive Summary, World Meterological Organization, Global Ozone Research and Monitoring Project, Report no. 37, Geneva, 1994, pp.15-17.
  5. Peter G. Sparber, "Clean Air Act Amendment" Memorandum, Methyl Bromide Working Group, September 25, 1996.
  6. MBWG, The Challenge of Maintaining Our World Food Supply: Searching for True Alternatives to Methyl Bromide, Methyl Bromide Working Group, Special Report, n.p. n.d., p. 2.
  7. UNEP, "1994 Report of the Methyl Bromide Technical Options Committee: 1995 Assessment," Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, Nairobi, 1995, p. 3.
  8. Peter G. Sparber, MBWG letter.
  9. MBWG, The Challenge of Maintaining Our World Food Supply, p. 21.
  10. US GAO, The Phaseout of Methyl Bromide in the United States, U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO/RCED-96-16, December 1995, p. 1.