Science

Biden admin’s first climate pollution rule takes aim at refrigerants

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration used its federal powers to limit emissions for the first time Monday, proposing a rule that would phase out the use of a common refrigerant blamed for driving global warming.

Hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs and used frequently in air conditioners and refrigerators, are greenhouse gases that trap heat — and do so far more than other gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency will require the U.S. to ramp down production and import of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 15 years.

Phasing out HFCs worldwide is expected to avert up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century, the EPA said, a significant step toward meeting global goals of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Put simply, this action is good for our planet and our economy,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

The move marks the first new regulation proposed by the Biden administration to curb pollutants blamed for global warming, drawing on the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which was tucked into a massive Covid-19 relief and government spending bill that Congress passed in December and then-President Donald Trump signed into law.

As the Biden administration seeks to meet its goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions at least in half by 2035, tackling HFCs is among the rare low-hanging fruit, enjoying broad bipartisan support in Congress, as well as buy-in from industry groups. 

Initially developed to replace other refrigerants like Freon, HFCs were once viewed as environmentally preferable because they have less of a depleting effect on the ozone layer. A fuller understanding of their ability to trap heat in the atmosphere has since prompted widespread global concern.

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, a trade group that represents major refrigeration manufacturers, applauded the EPA’s move, saying it would “help create the certainty necessary for U.S. companies to maintain their natural technological advantage.”

“It continues our path of industry job creation, innovation and trade, and we are pleased at the signal it sends to the states and to other countries around the world,” its president, Stephen Yurek, said in a statement.

The EPA said that phasing in more energy-efficient cooling methods instead of HFCs would save “billions of dollars.” Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the rule, combined with other climate-related investments in the December legislation, would “create hundreds of thousands of good paying jobs that will combat climate change.”

David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council also lauded the move.

“Replacing HFCs is a critical and totally doable first step to head off the worst of the climate crisis, and we have safer alternatives ready to go that will save industry money in the bargain,” he said.

Phasing out HFCs globally is also called for in the Kigali Amendment, a 2016 update to the 1987 international treaty known as the Montreal Protocol. Shortly after taking office in January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order embracing the Kigali Amendment and starting the process for sending it to the Senate for ratification.

The EPA plans to finalize the rule later this year after a 45-day public comment period and a public hearing.

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