Trump Blocks Bipartisan Progress on Energy Innovation Because He Opposes States’ Rights

Image: Refrigerant HQ

An energy bill with bipartisan support was zipping through the Senate, but it ran into a roadblock when President Trump and conservative Republicans blocked an amendment that would have phased out greenhouse gas trapping chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) because the Democrats refused to ban states’ right to pass stricter standards on them.  HFCs are used in air conditioners and refrigerants and are known as “super greenhouse gasses” — they were developed to replace a similar chemical refrigerant that was phased out by international agreement because they were causing a hole in the Earth’s ozone layer.

Why This Matters:  The White House argues that any such phase-out should be governed by a uniform federal law to provide certainty and consistency across the country, but Congressional Dems claim that this “federal pre-emption” provision is not needed because if the federal law is stringent enough states won’t want to pass tougher laws.  Most federal environmental laws contain the type of provision the White House is insisting on — and in the past, Democrats would have agreed because state laws have generally been lax (less protective) than federal ones and citizens across the country deserve to have the same level of environmental protections.  But the landscape has changed fundamentally — with more pro-conservation Democrats in control in States and an administration that is rolling back regulations and environmental enforcement.  Federalism used to be the rallying cry of conservatives but now it is conservationists who are calling for states’ rights.  It is just another way that President Trump has totally upended the “norms” of government.  Unfortunately, this dispute over HFCs is holding up a bill that if enacted would increase energy research and development by the government for the first time in a decade and that could have extended tax credits for renewable energy.

The Danger of HFCs

If HFCs are not phased out, their emissions will increase to 7-19% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and off-set most if not all the greenhouse gas cuts pledged by countries so far.  HFCs have a global warming potential of 1000 to 3000 times that of carbon dioxide, and their use has increased exponentially since they were introduced in 1990.  According to the NGO Environmental Investigations Agency, there are safe and readily available HFC-free technologies and more are coming on-line every year so that most uses could be phased-out relatively quickly if Congress did require it.  The state of California is working to put new standards in place that would meet a requirement that the state reduces its HFC emissions to half their current levels by 2030.  This would require changes by grocery stores, as well as alterations to commercial and residential air conditioning systems.

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