Energy & Environment

EPA proposes major rule to reduce certain greenhouse gases

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking a major step Monday to battle climate change with the formal proposal of a rule phasing down the use of planet-warming gases called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used as refrigerants, the agency announced Monday. 

The reduction will decrease HFC production and use in the U.S. by 85 percent over the next 15 years. The rule is being issued under a law passed last year by Congress. 

The EPA said that phasing down the use of the gases globally would avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.

The agency said it will create an allocation and trading program under which it will issue an allowance for how much of the gases can be used for 2022 by Oct. 1. 

It will also determine how much of the gases can be used for 2023 by that date next year. 

The agency said that it will create a framework within the legal timeline for the phaseout, and will revisit allocating HFCs for 2024 and beyond.

“By phasing down HFCs, which can be hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, EPA is taking a major action to help keep global temperature rise in check,” Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. 

“The phasedown of HFCs is also widely supported by the business community, as it will help promote American leadership in innovation and manufacturing of new climate-safe products. Put simply, this action is good for our planet and our economy,” he said.

The EPA is proposing that each year, it would issue a “calendar-year allowance” that is valid between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 for HFC production and consumption. 

It would also allocate “application-specific allowances” for products such as medical inhalers and “defense sprays” like pepper spray and animal sprays. 

The agency will count HFC imports as part of the consumption allowances. It will exempt from the allowances HFCs that will be used to make another chemical such as feedstock, characterizing this as a “transformation” rather than production or consumption. 

The allowances in question would be based on weighted values instead of creating allowances for each specific HFC. 

The agency estimated that for the year 2022, the proposal will have overall annual benefits totaling $2.6 billion, which reflects a calculated social benefit of $2.8 billion and $200 million in compliance costs.

It calculated that between 2022 and 2050, the cumulative net benefits of the reduction will be between $278.6 billion and $283.9 billion. 

It noted that because of health risks linked to air toxins in communities near HFC-producing facilities, it will seek input on whether there are equity concerns surrounding the phasedowns, allowance trades or substitute production. 

The rule came after bipartisan lawmakers agreed to pass a law requiring the phasedown of the use of HFCs by 2036, which was championed by Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Kennedy (R-La.).

The provision was incorporated into a government spending bill after a compromise with Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), which added language preventing states from passing their own stricter HFC regulations for at least five years.

The law required HFC use to go down to 90 percent of baseline consumption in the years 2020 through 2023, 60 percent in the years 2024 through 2028, 30 percent in the years 2029 through 2033, 20 percent in 2034 and 2035 and 15 percent in 2036 and beyond. 

At the time, several players in industries that use HFCs, which can be found in refrigerators, air conditioners and other products, said they supported the phaseout. 

The Trump administration rolled back Obama administration policies aiming to fulfill the country’s commitment to reduce HFCs in a 2016 international agreement called the Kigali Amendment.

Updated at 10:58 a.m.

Tags Climate change Environment Protection Agency EPA hydrofluorocarbons John Barrasso John Kennedy Michael Regan Pollution regulations Tom Carper

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