Committee Advances Commonsense Protections for Farmers and Patients

August 1, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – The Energy and Commerce Committee today approved H.R. 6194, the “U.S. Agricultural Sector Relief Act,” and H.R. 6190, the “Asthma Inhalers Relief Act.” The bipartisan bills offer necessary relief from rigid EPA regulations relating to implementation of the Montreal Protocol.

The “U.S. Agricultural Sector Relief Act,” sponsored by Rep. Phil Gingrey, M.D. (R-GA), was approved by a vote of 28 to 16. The bill directs the EPA to seek critical use exemptions under the Montreal Protocol treaty process to ensure the availability of the crop fumigant methyl bromide where no viable alternative is available. For decades, methyl bromide was widely used by farmers for cultivation of crops like strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and flowers, and at mills and food storage and processing facilities. Under the Montreal Protocol and Title VI of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. has phased out the use of methyl bromide except for critical uses and other exemptions. Since 2005, U.S. nominations for critical use exemptions have declined by over 90 percent, and there is significant concern in the agricultural sector about access to sufficient quantities to control pests and diseases.

“House Republicans have worked tirelessly to reduce bureaucratic red tape and rein in burdensome regulations that prevent our nation’s job creators from expanding and hiring. Similarly, the U.S. Agricultural Sector Relief Act, H.R. 6194, safeguards farmers from devastating losses stemming from agency rules and overreach,” said Dr. Gingrey. “At a time when farmers across the country face hardships and challenges due to record droughts, the federal government must refrain from imposing additional burdens on the agricultural industry.”

The “Asthma Inhalers Relief Act,” sponsored by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), passed the committee by a voice vote. The 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 U.S. under the Montreal Protocol and Title VI of the Clean Air Act. A ban on the inhaler went into effect on December 31, 2011, and to date, no over-the-counter replacement is available. An estimated two million asthma sufferers in the United States relied on this medication before the ban went into effect. This legislation would direct EPA to allow for the distribution and sale of the remaining inventories of the inhaler without threat of EPA enforcement actions.

“While the Obama administration and Environmental Protection Agency have refused to be on the side of asthma patients, today the Energy and Commerce Committee put patients first,” said Dr. Burgess. “Members of Congress spend a lot of time talking about how much they care about the plight of asthmatics and patients generally, decrying the high costs of health care. This bill returns – even if just for a limited time – a safe, effective, and inexpensive treatment option to the hands of patients suffering from an asthma attack – and one that has been in use for nearly 50 years.”

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