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One chemical plant in Louisville Kentucky is doing more damage to the environment than all the city’s cars combined. The Chemours Louisville Works is the country’s largest emitter of a chemical called hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23), a greenhouse gas 12,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
These emissions could be eliminated with low-cost technology upgrades, but the company has failed to do so, and the city has refrained from putting pressure on the plant despite declaring a carbon emergency.
Why This Matters: According to the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), if the globe maintains its current level of emissions, we will exhaust our carbon budget in just under 25 years. Despite drops during the coronavirus pandemic, experts warn we must continue similar drops even post-COVID to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. But it’s not just carbon we have to worry about. Under the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal protocol, all U.N. nations have committed to reducing hydrofluorocarbon emissions by 85% by 2050 and the U.S. has made its own pledge to reduce by 85% by 2035. Despite this, most refrigerators are still made with harmful HFCs, many refrigerants end up in landfills, and companies like Chemours are emitting these toxic greenhouse gasses, with little sign of stopping.
Promises Made: In 2015, Chemours pledged “to control and, to the extent feasible, eliminate by-product emissions of HFC-23 at all its fluorochemical production facilities worldwide.” It never met those goals, but following recent inquiries from Inside Climate News, the company released a plan to curb emissions by 2022.
Experts and activists aren’t satisfied, even calling for the closure of the plant.
Avipsa Mahapatra, the Energy Information Administration’s Climate Campaign lead, said in a statement, “it is shameful that in 2021, a major multinational chemical company is unable or unwilling to control and contain its own chemical waste. If Chemours is incapable of running this facility responsibly, it must immediately cease operations leading to these waste emissions.”
In 2019, the plant released 251 tons of HFC-23 into the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions of 671,000 automobiles. Comparatively, there are about 519,000 light trucks and passenger vehicles in Louisville. However, HFCs can be disposed of before they enter the atmosphere using specialized incinerators. Currently, Chemours collects more than half of its HFC emissions and ships them to another site to be incinerated, but building an incinerator on site would allow them to incinerate 100% of produced HFCs. A new incinerator would cost the company, which raked in $1.1 billion in sales in 2019, about $4.8 million, and would take about 2 years to complete.
The company claims that time constraints are responsible for the delay in installing the incinerator, and even claims that they are operating on an accelerated schedule. But records show that the company abandoned a voluntary incinerator installation just after making their 2015 pledge. Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, is particularly skeptical of the company’s claims. “I think we can speculate that cost has been the reason they haven’t accelerated this process, and to save money at the expense of the planet is simply not acceptable today,” he said.
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