The Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), today held a legislative hearing focused on the "U.S. Agricultural Sector Relief Act" and the "Asthma Inhalers Relief Act;" two pieces of legislation relating to implementation of the Montreal Protocol. These commonsense proposals will address critical shortages created by application of EPA regulations that affect American families and businesses.
The subcommittee first examined the draft "U.S. Agricultural Sector Relief Act," which seeks to ensure American farmers have access to the agricultural fumigant methyl bromide for critical uses. For decades, methyl bromide was widely used in the U.S. for agricultural applications, including for the cultivation of strawberries, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, flowers, and tree and vine crops, and at food storage, processing and handling facilities. Under the Montreal protocol and Title VI of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. has phased out the use of the methyl bromide except for critical uses and other exemptions. Since 2005, U.S. nominations for critical use exemptions have decreased by over 90 percent. The proposed legislation would direct EPA to continue to seek critical use exemptions for methyl bromide under the treaty for the full amounts necessary, and to allow for the use of limited quantities of methyl bromide in response to emergency events.
"Government should be working with farmers and small businesses to come up with ideas that help grow business, and support local farmers," Whitfield said. "Instead, because of the Environmental Protection Agency, family farmers are increasingly facing more and more hurdles to be able to produce quality products, at reasonable costs."
Michigan Farmer Russell Costanza described the necessity of continued methyl bromide availability, and warned that the lack of alternatives was creating a farming crisis in America. "Due to the lost quality and yields associated with these crops, we have experienced decreased profits for our remaining workers and our farm. My family, our workers, and I pride ourselves on providing high quality and affordable food to U.S. consumers and to making a meaningful contribution to our country's economy. Unfortunately, our ability to do so is vanishing due to the lack of methyl bromide or an effective, affordable alternative," said Costanza. "I cannot overstate the importance of access to methyl bromide for my farm operation and my fellow Michigan growers. We are facing a crisis and need relief."
Michelle Castellano Keeler, Vice President of Mellano & Company, and representing the Society of American Florists, explained the competitive disadvantage facing the American agriculture industry due to differing regulations on methyl bromide around the world. "Perhaps the most troublesome aspect to this story is that while our allocation is being reduced, our competitors in lesser-developed countries will continue to have methyl bromide available for their use for several years. U.S. growers, in an increasingly international economy, need better and better tools to remain competitive," said Keeler.
The second piece of legislation discussed today was the "Asthma Inhalers Relief Act." The draft legislation seeks to provide asthma patients with access to remaining inventories of the over-the-counter asthma inhaler known as Primatene Mist, which has been phased out in the United States. A ban became effective December 31, 2011. Approximately three million asthma sufferers relied on this medication, but to date, no over-the-counter replacement is available to patients. The proposed legislation would direct the agency to allow for the distribution of the remaining inventories of Primatene Mist without threat of EPA enforcement action.
"Lisa Jackson and President Obama have waged a senseless war on asthmatics," said Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX). "This year a common over-the-counter emergency asthma inhaler, Primatene Mist, was forced off pharmacy shelves due to an international treaty agreement. Although a replacement inhaler has been before the FDA's approval board for several years, they have taken no action, and as a result asthmatics currently have no over the counter remedy. The EPA has within its authority the ability to waive the ban on Primatene Mist to allow the existing stock to be sold, at least until its replacement can be approved. Yet despite multiple letters to the EPA and President Obama, and questions during committee hearings, they remain unresponsive. The EPA should be on the side of patients and consumers."
Edward M. Kerwin, M.D., Senior Medical Director at the Allergy & Asthma Center of Southern Oregon, spoke to the need for an over the counter alternative for asthma patients. "There needs to continue to be over-the-counter, fast acting rescue bronchodilators available to Americans in need," said Kerwin. "They have had these continuously available since 1963. Only in January 2012 did the EPA and FDA prematurely withdraw CFC Primatene Mist inhaler without ensuring that there were alternative OTC rescue inhalers for patients with acute Asthma, COPD and Bronchitis."
The subcommittee is scheduled to vote on both the "U.S. Agricultural Sector Relief Act" and the "Asthma Inhalers Relief Act" tomorrow starting at 10:00 am.