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EPA to limit climate-warming gases used in refrigeration

The agency will begin phasing down the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, with the goal of curbing production and import of the chemicals by 85% over the next 15 years.

(CN) — The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a new rule establishing a program to dramatically slash the domestic use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, chemicals commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration and known to accelerate climate change.

HFCs are thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon dioxide, exacerbating global warming and contributing to the rise in extreme weather events globally. They have been used in place of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons since the 1980s.

The rule, which was proposed in May and follows through on a law Congress passed last year, is intended to gradually curb production and import of the chemicals by 85% over the next 15 years. It could avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.

“Cutting these climate ‘super pollutants’ protects our environment, strengthens our economy and demonstrates that America is back when it comes to leading the world in addressing climate change and curbing global warming in the years ahead,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in a statement Thursday.

According to estimates from the EPA, the rule is expected to reduce the equivalent of 4.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, or nearly three years of emissions from the U.S. power sector at 2019 levels, by 2050. The EPA announced it will issue HFC allowances for 2022 by Oct. 1, 2021.

The program marks the first time the federal government has set national standards on HFCs and cements the EPA’s commitment to advancing President Joe Biden’s climate agenda. A fact sheet released by the White House called it “one of the most consequential climate actions taken by the federal government to reduce climate pollution in decades.”

The president has pledged to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and reach net zero emissions economy-wide no later than 2050. Biden also announced last week that the U.S. has reached an agreement with the European Union to reduce methane emissions by nearly 30% by the end of the decade.

White House climate adviser and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy called the new rule a victory Wednesday, saying during a briefing that it was “a win on climate and a win on jobs and American competitiveness.”

The new rule meets benchmarks mandated in the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which was enacted in December 2020 after receiving bipartisan support. It sets HFC production and use baseline levels from which reductions will be made, establishes a methodology for allocating HFC allowances for the next two years, and creates a “robust, agile, and innovative compliance and enforcement system,” according to the agency.

The switch to safer and more energy-efficient cooling technologies is expected to boost U.S. manufacturing and produce a net gain for the economy in the amount of $284 billion through 2050.

The program has received support from the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, a trade group that represents manufacturers of heating and cooling equipment, and the American Chemistry Council, which represents companies including Dow, DuPont and Honeywell.

“This action reaffirms what President Biden always says — that when he thinks about climate, he thinks about jobs,” Regan said.

Some supporters of the rule anticipate that it could be a sign of the Biden administration’s intention to ratify a 2016 amendment to the 1987 Montreal protocol on ozone pollution. The Kigali amendment called on industrialized countries to reduce HFCs by 85% by 2036 and has already been ratified by more than 120 nations.

Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said the organization is hopeful that the Biden administration will soon begin the process of adopting the amendment even though the new EPA rule is a “critical step” in the process of phasing down HFCs.

“We are hopeful that the administration will soon submit the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol — the treaty that underpins the AIM Act — to the United States Senate and continue the process of putting the United States on record with the majority of the world’s nations in support of this global phase down,” Yurek said.

To ensure that the phasedown in HFC consumption happens according to plan, the EPA says it will work with the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the illegal import and trade of the chemicals.

A task force will be formed and led by experts from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and EPA.

Follow Kayla Goggin on Twitter.

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