EPA Moves To Sharply Limit Potent Gases Used In Refrigerators And Air Conditioners

EPA Takes Steps to Limit the Use of Potent Gases in Refrigerators and Air Conditioners
Click to enlarge the image and toggle caption Jenny Kane/AP Jenny Kane/AP

WASHINGTON The Environmental Protection Agency has taken a crucial step in combating climate change by limiting domestic production of hydrofluorocarbons. These highly potent greenhouse gasses are commonly found in air conditioners and refrigerators.

This new rule is a continuation of a law Congress passed last January. It is designed to reduce U.S. HFC production and use by 85% over 15 years. It is part of a global phaseout to slow global warming.

HFCs, which are more powerful than carbon dioxide, are greenhouse gases. HFCs are a major contributor to global warming as they can leak through appliances and pipes that use compressed refrigerants. President Joe Biden pledged to sign a global agreement in 2016 to significantly reduce HFCs by 2036.

Gina McCarthy, a White House climate advisor and former EPA administrator, stated that the new rule was a "win on climate and a victory on jobs and American competiveness."

McCarthy stated that the rule will reduce harmful emissions by 4.5 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. This is equivalent to three years of U.S. power sector emissions.

Michael Regan, EPA Administrator, stated that the industry coalition backing the phasedown sees it as an opportunity for America to "supercharge" its domestic manufacturing and alternative refrigerants production. Industry has been moving to alternative refrigerants for years and has pushed for a federal standard in order to avoid a patchwork state laws and regulations.

Regan stated, echoing a Biden phrase about climate change, "This action reaffirms President Biden's constant statement that he thinks only about climate when he thinks of jobs." Regan stated that the transition to safer cooling technology and more efficient cooling systems is expected to result in more than $270 million in cost savings and public benefits over 30 years.

Congress passed a spending and pandemic relief bill last December that directs the EPA's sharply reduced production and use HFCs. This law was widely supported and was called the most important climate change law in at minimum a decade.

The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, also known as AIM Act, targets HFCs. It promotes technologies that can capture and store carbon dioxide from power and manufacturing plants and calls to reduce diesel emissions from buses and other vehicles.

Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), who is chairman the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee was an influential backer, as was Sen. John Kennedy (R-La). Both are from states where chemical companies produce alternative refrigerants. They sought federal regulatory certainty through federal action.

A unique coalition of environmental and business groups supported the HFC provision, which included the National Association of Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. Major companies represented by the chemistry council include Dow, Honeywell and Chemours, as well as Arkema, DuPont, Honeywell and Chemours.

According to the administration, it is also taking additional steps to reduce HFCs. This includes creating an interagency taskforce to stop illegal trade, production or sale of these climate-damaging gases. The Task Force will be headed by the Department of Homeland Security and the EPA's Offices of Air and Radiation and Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

The task force will work with the Departments of Justice, State, and Defense to "detect, prevent and disrupt any attempt illegally import/produce HFCs in America," the White House stated in a factsheet.

Joseph Goffman is a senior official at EPA's radiation and air office. He said that the European Union experience shows that enforcement is an important component of a HFC crackdown.

Goffman stated that "Unfortunately (the EU) has seen a lot of illicit activity" regarding HFC imports and other issues. He stated that "We're going be aggressive and proactive" to stop illegal imports.

Biden issued an executive notice in January that included a 2016 amendment of the 1987 Montreal Protocol regarding ozone pollution. This amendment requires the United States and large industrialized countries to reduce HFCs in their country by 85% by 2036. Although the State Department has submitted documents to formal ratification, the White House has yet to submit them to the Senate.

McCarthy maintained that there was no delay in the amendment's passage, but she didn't know when Biden would bring the matter before the Senate.