Sep 23, 2021 - Energy & Environment

White House moves against "super-pollutant" in climate fight

Photo: Kena Betancur/VIEWpress/Corbis via Getty Images

The EPA is finalizing rules today that cut powerful greenhouse gases used in air conditioning and refrigeration, part of a wider new White House strategy to deter these "super-pollutants" and boost manufacturing of substitutes.

Why it matters: The EPA regulation is the U.S. part of a planned global phase-down of chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons. The global phaseout can prevent up 0.5 °C of global warming by 2100, the White House said.

  • That's a lot if it happens — Paris climate agreement calls for holding global temperature rise to well under 2°C above preindustrial levels and ideally 1.5°C.

Driving the news: The EPA rule, first proposed in May, requires an 85% cut in production and consumption over the next 15 years, officials said.

The agency is acting under wide-ranging bipartisan legislation enacted in late 2020 that seeks to phase down the substances used in cooling, foams and other industrial applications.

  • The EPA rule is aimed at U.S. obligations under a 2016 addition to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, even though the U.S. has not formally ratified the amendment.
  • That 1987 treaty successfully curbed the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, but one side effect was that it boosted deployment of HFCs.

How it works: The White House this morning also unveiled a wider set of plans to combat HFCs and boost alternatives.

  • A new interagency task force with the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, State and Defense to "detect, deter, and disrupt" illegal import or manufacturing of HFCs.
  • "Illegal trade in HFCs poses a fundamental risk to America’s climate and economic goals," a White House summary states.
  • There's a new Defense Department effort to survey "mission critical" military uses and plan for transition by identifying climate-friendly alternatives for use in ground vehicles and aviation, fire suppressants and more.
  • Another part of that effort will seek to use federal procurement more broadly to support alternatives to HFCs.

By the numbers: The EPA regulation is estimated to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of over 4.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2050, officials said.

  • That's "equal to nearly three years of U.S. power sector emissions at 2019 levels," a White House summary states.
  • EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters that transitioning to safer alternatives and more energy-efficient cooling technology is estimated to provide over $270 billion in cumulative cost savings and public health benefits by 2050.

The big picture: The Associated Press notes that the phase-down provisions Congress enacted last year had support from industry groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, American Chemistry Council and the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.

  • "The industry has long been shifting to the use of alternative refrigerants and pushed for a federal standard to avoid a patchwork of state laws and regulations," AP reports.
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