EPA Announces Rule to Reduce HFCs in New A/C and Refrigeration

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first rule of the Biden administration to combat climate change. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has announced that the rule implementing the 15-year phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) passed by Congress last year.  The new rule will phase out the production and use of these harmful greenhouse gasses in refrigerators and air conditioners. Along with methane, HFCs are a prime target for emissions reduction efforts and have been a rare uniting enemy for lawmakers across the aisle.

Why This Matters: Although HFCs have an atmospheric lifetime of about 15 years, which is less than any other GHG, and the most common type is 3,790 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide. Emissions of HFCs are growing at rates of 10-15% per year, and experts believe there will be 5.6 billion air conditioners in use by 2050. The world has committed to reducing HFC emissions by 85% by 2036. But as the planet warms, temperature cooling technology — even for outdoor areas such as what they use now in Qatar — will be in high demand. Phasing HFCs out of production isn’t just a GHG reduction strategy, but a climate adaptation strategy as well.

Cool Moves

“With this proposal, EPA is taking another significant step under President Biden’s ambitious agenda to address the climate crisis,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “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.″ The AIM Act, signed by former President Donald Trump in December 2020, was passed with bipartisan support.  

The act was also supported by a unique coalition of environmental and trade organizations, including the National Association of Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council, and the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute. The proposed rule “will sharply reduce a sizable source of greenhouse gas emissions while creating new manufacturing jobs and growing our nation’s share of the global market for air-conditioning and refrigeration products,″ said American Chemistry Council President Chris Jahn.  About 47% of HFC emissions come from residential, commercial, and industrial air conditioning and refrigeratio

The EPA estimates the new rule could save $284 billion over the next 30 years and prevent the equivalent of 187 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. David Doniger, a senior climate and clean-energy official with the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasized the widespread benefits of reducing HFCs and said that the rule would offer “enormous public health and climate benefits” and save industry money in the bargain.”  In Louisville, KY, the HFC emissions from just one chemical plant are doing more damage than all of the city’s cars combined.

What comes next?  President Biden issued an executive order in January that supports the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone pollution and directed the State Department to prepare documents for submission of the amendment to the Senate for formal ratification.

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