In a rare bipartisan climate deal, senators forge a plan to reduce the use of a potent greenhouse gas

In a rare bipartisan climate deal, senators forge a plan to reduce the use of a potent greenhouse gas

In a rare show of defiance of the Trump administration, Republicans joined Senate Democrats Thursday in agreeing to phase out the chemicals widely used in air conditioners and refrigeration that are warming the planet.

Despite the Trump administration's refusal to join a global deal to cut back on hydrofluorocarbons, which are among the most potent drivers of climate change in the world, a push from US companies and environmentalists appears to have swayed lawmakers.

"This agreement protects both American consumers and American businesses," said Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Who chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. "We can have clean air without damaging our economy."

The proposed reduction will be offered as an amendment to a bipartisan energy bill, although it is unclear whether it will pass both houses and be signed into law by President Trump before Congress adjourns in January.

An unusual coalition of business and environmental groups, including the National Manufacturers Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, FreedomWorks, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have been lobbying Trump administration officials for months to to support the Kigali Amendment, a 2016 agreement by nearly 200 countries to reduce the use of a group of organic compounds that deplete the ozone layer and drive global warming. Some conservative organizations, including the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, have tried to block the approval of the treaty by the Senate.

The proposed legislation would faithfully reflect the requirements of the Kigali Amendment. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Hydrofluorocarbons, also known as HFCs, are used in almost every American home to cool everything from refrigerators to cars. They were widely introduced three decades ago as a substitute for chlorofluorocarbons, a different set of chemicals that were depleting the Earth's ozone layer. While that helped repair the ozone layer, scientists have identified HFCs as a major driver of climate change, thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Reducing these emissions, one of the fastest growing greenhouse gases in the United States, could prevent a global temperature rise of 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.

Barrasso joined Senators Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) And John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) Thursday in proposing to phase out HFC production and import by 85 percent over the next 15 years. That would put the United States on a path to meeting the goals set out in the Kigali Amendment, which modifies the 1987 Montreal Protocol, an international treaty to preserve the ozone layer.

The Senate proposal excludes six specific uses of HFCs, including extinguishing fires on airplanes, bear repellent used by hikers, and inhalers required by people with asthma, and prevents states from regulating the HFCs used for those products for five years. . Some states have been regulating chemicals in the absence of federal action. Barrasso obtained language that would prevent the deadlines for removal from becoming stricter.

"This amendment would stimulate billions of dollars of economic growth in domestic manufacturing and create tens of thousands of new jobs, while helping our planet avoid half a degree Celsius in global warming," Carper said in a statement. . “At a time when we could all use good news, this is great news for our economy and our planet. Let's do it. "

American corporations, including Honeywell and Chemours, want the country to phase out the use of HFCs because they make less harmful alternative refrigerants and see market opportunities in the United States and abroad. Morris Plains, NJ-based Honeywell began researching alternatives to HFCs 20 years ago and is producing them at its Baton Rouge plants and in partnership with companies abroad. Chemours has been manufacturing a new automotive air conditioner coolant at its Corpus Christi, Texas plant for over a year.

The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute said its members have invested several billion dollars in development and that passage of the bill would lead to the creation of 33,000 new jobs, increase US manufacturing output. At $ 12.5 billion, it would improve the trade balance and boost exports by 25 percent.

Meanwhile, environmental advocates welcomed the possibility of recalling a class of chemicals that is contributing to the climate crisis.

David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's clean energy and climate program, called the proposal "a breakthrough."

"It sends a strong signal that these climate-damaging chemicals are coming out and safer alternatives are arriving," Doniger said in a telephone interview.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, called the bipartisan agreement "remarkable."

The Trump administration has never tabled the Kigali Amendment for a vote in the Senate, although 17 Republican senators have asked for it.

Some manufacturers remain concerned that by passing a national bill to phase out these chemicals, it will be more difficult to rally support for passage of the international treaty by the Senate in the next Congress. If the United States does not ratify the treaty, American companies may find it difficult to sell their products abroad, they say.

Zaelke said that while that remains a risk, he noted that companies will continue to have a strong incentive to push for ratification. "The industry will say, 'We still need it,'" he said. “They need it for their export market. They will push this. "

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he will push for the treaty to be ratified.

Meanwhile, some conservatives have opposed a reduction in HFCs, suggesting that alternative refrigerants will increase the prices of consumer goods. In a statement to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this year, Heritage Foundation Deputy Director Nick Loris said that “the reality is that the cost of disposal will likely come at a significant cost to American families and businesses. The new air conditioning units for home and car owners will be significantly more expensive. "

Loris said that “regulations don't create jobs. Forcing a new refrigerant onto consumers means that companies will have to comply with the new regulation. "

As the planet warms, the demand for air conditioning grows globally and countries like India and China have adopted plans to increase energy efficiency and use less harmful refrigerants. China, the world's largest producer of HFCs, is in the process of curbing its use and is ready to join 101 other countries that have ratified the Kigali Amendment since it was first adopted by an initial group of 20 nations.

Zaelke noted that French President Emmanuel Macron held meetings at last year's G-7 summit to ensure that both China and India moved forward with plans to curb the use of these super pollutants. "Globally, the world has made progress on the Kigali Amendment," Zaelke said.

 

Source: The Washington Post

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