Energy & Environment

EPA finalizes rule cutting use of potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday is finalizing a rule aimed at significantly cutting the use of a type of greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons that are used in refrigeration. 

Hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs, can have up to 14,800 times the climate impact of carbon dioxide. 

The new EPA rule, first proposed in May, aims to reduce their use by 85 percent compared to a baseline number over the next 15 years.

The move to cut HFCs was required by Congress after it passed a measure requiring the phase down as part of a bipartisan energy bill late last year. 

HFCs can be used in air conditioning, refrigeration, fire suppression and aerosols. 

As of 2018, they accounted for about 1.5 percent of the world’s emissions that contribute to climate change. 

EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters Wednesday that between 2022 and 2050, the rule’s climate benefits are expected to be the equivalent of 4.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. This reduction is equivalent to nearly three times the power sector’s emissions in 2019. 

National climate adviser Gina McCarthy on Wednesday argued that the move is good not only for the climate, but also for business. 

“It’s a win on climate and a win on jobs and American competitiveness,” McCarthy told reporters. 

“The U.S. is already a leader in innovation and manufacturing of HFC alternatives, so making this shift is good for our economy,” she said. 

Congress directed the EPA to phase down HFC use after the idea was promoted by a bipartisan duo: Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Kennedy (R-La.).

Other Republicans opposed incorporating the HFC provision into the energy bill. 

But it was ultimately included after the lawmakers reached a compromise with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that prevented states from passing their own, stricter HFC regulations for at least five years. 

Under the EPA’s rule, the amount of HFCs that can be produced or consumed will be capped. 

The federal government will distribute tradable allowances to companies that set how much of the substance they can use. 

In a new fact sheet announcing the rule, the White House said that its measures are in line with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to phase down the use of HFCs. 

If it’s implemented worldwide, the Kigali Amendment could prevent up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of increased global warming by the end of the century. 

The White House said in January that it also intends to send the 2016 amendment to the Senate for ratification, but has not yet done so. 

The White House also announced additional steps aimed at preventing illegal HFC trade, production, use and sale, as well as supporting the development of alternatives. 

As part of the prevention, the EPA will partner with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce the phase down. 

The law enforcement agencies will specifically create a certification system to track HFC movement and create consequences such as revoking allowances. 

And the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE and CBP, is creating a task force with the EPA on illegal HFC trade.

The task force will “execute a strategy to detect, deter, and disrupt” attempts to illegally import or produce the gases, according to the White House fact sheet.

In addition, the Defense Department will put more than $8 billion over five years to identify suitable alternatives that contribute less to climate change than HFCs for military applications.

Updated at 9:44 a.m.

Tags Gina McCarthy John Barrasso John Kennedy Michael Regan Tom Carper

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