Progress Made Toward Phasing Out Planet-Warming ‘Super’ Greenhouse Gases

Rare bipartisan support for new climate legislation brings the U.S. one step closer to ditching a group of potent planet-warming chemicals.Democratic and Republican senators recently introduced an FILE – A coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming, July 27, 2018. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have been found to be up to 4,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.More than 100 countries have ratified the Kigali Amendment, making it legally binding. The United States is not among them.The White House has said little about why it has not ratified the Kigali document, despite urging by Republican senators.  “It’s very important that other countries, especially the bigger countries, commit to [the Kigali Amendment],” said RIVM’s Velders. “A lot of countries look to Europe, the United States and Japan to lead initiatives. It’s important that they lead by example. Otherwise, for other developing countries, it’s quite easy for them to say, ‘Well, why should we worry if the most polluting countries don’t comply with it?’”  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump has rolled back previous steps to regulate HFCs and dozens of other environmental regulations, though courts have struck down some of these measures.The new proposed legislation would require an 85% reduction in HFC production and use by 2036. HFCs would still be allowed in “essential” products that don’t have available substitutes. The list includes defense sprays such as bear repellents, medical inhalers and mission-critical military uses.“At the end of the day, whether we ratify Kigali and have a plan to phase out HFCs, or whether we just decide to phase out HFCs, either way, it’s a win for the planet if we can work to reduce HFCs,” said Caitlin McCoy, staff attorney at the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program.The legislation is part of the broader American Energy Innovation Act, a collection of energy-related policies that has support from business and environmental groups. The bill is expected to be brought to the Senate floor in the coming weeks.Beyond HFCsClimate-friendlier alternatives to HFCs include compounds such as ammonia, propane and hydrofluoroolefins, CO2 and certain HFCs that are less climate-warming.Companies already are adapting.  “The U.S. is a leader in the technology that we would transition to, as well as the current technologies,” said Chuck Chaitovitz, vice president of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “The technology that will replace current HFCs is already well in process.”Policy to phase down HFC use “is important for U.S. exports and to create new jobs,” he added.A 2018 report from industry trade groups estimated that phasing down HFC use would increase jobs and exports, while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.“The economics are pretty clear on this. But the reductions of greenhouse gases are also pretty clear that this will have a significant impact on reducing greenhouse gases,” Chaitovitz said.

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