The Environmental Protection Agency proposed wide-reaching regulations on Monday to curb the use of potent greenhouse gases in the refrigeration and air conditioning industries.
The proposed rules will target hydrofluorocarbons, proposing to curb reliance on the greenhouse gas — which is thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide — by 85% throughout 2035. Hydrofluorocarbons, commonly known as HFCs, are synthetic chemical coolants used in the production of refrigerators, air conditioners and other applications.
The regulations are the first imposed by the Biden administration to curb climate change. Since taking office, President Biden has pledged to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to human-made climate change, by more than 50% throughout 2030.
HFCs were developed in the 1980s to replace Freon, a noncombustible gas. At the time, Freon emissions were eating away at the ozone layer — a part of the Earth’s atmosphere that absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun — and contributing to climate change.
Although they proved wildly successful in limiting damage to the ozone layer, HFCs have been in the crosshairs of regulators since the Obama administration.
Environmentalists, in particular, argue that reducing HFCs are the key to averting further climate change. The EPA estimates that an HFC phasedown would “avoid up to 0.5 [degrees Celsius] of global warming by 2100.”
Other estimates indicate as much 4.7 million metric tons of greenhouse gases would be prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2050 if the EPA’s rule is implemented.
“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,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
Under the proposed regulations, the EPA would create an annual cap on HFC production, consumption and importation. The cap would decrease every year, forcing industries to find environmentally friendly alternatives. A list of substitutes already has been created by environmental regulators.
It is unclear how the EPA will enforce the limitations on HFC generation.
The regulation comes after Congress enacted a bipartisan law last year on the topic. That law, the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, set the goal of reducing HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years.
“Passing the AIM Act was a momentous climate achievement that will help save our planet, and today we are one step closer to its benefits being a reality,” said Democratic Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Despite supporting the law in Congress, Republicans are not ready to endorse the EPA’s new regulations.
Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee, said he was still reviewing the proposal after not being given advance notice of its release.
Although GOP lawmakers are remaining quiet, representatives for the industries impacted are endorsing the new regulations.
“This HFC allocation rule is key to achieving an orderly … phasedown in the United States, creating a uniform federal approach to this effort, and capturing significant projected environmental and economic benefits,” said Karen Meyers, the chairwoman of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy.
The Alliance, which represents refrigeration and air conditioning giants such as Carrier, was organized in the 1980s to address ozone depletion.
Steve Milloy, who was a member of Donald Trump’s presidential transition team for the EPA, said industry backing was not surprising.
“The Biden EPA plan to ban HFCs on the basis of climate will only raise the cost of air conditioning and refrigeration without providing any climate benefit,” Mr. Milloy said. “HFCs are an exceedingly small and insignificant part of the atmosphere. Banning them will only benefit the air conditioning and refrigeration industry at consumer expense.”
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