Cooling California with Less Warming

California and other state climate leaders are picking up the slack to curb the HFC super climate pollutants.

In another act of climate leadership, the California Legislature last week passed SB 1013, the California Cooling Act, to help cut the state’s harmful emissions of the climate-changing super pollutants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). State Senator Ricardo Lara wrote this landmark bill and led the way to passage. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign it into law soon.

HFCs are among the world’s most powerful and fastest growing climate pollutants. They are used in refrigeration, air conditioning, foams, aerosols, and other applications. Pound for pound, HFCs have hundreds to thousands of times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. And because they have a short atmospheric lifetime, they pack their powerful climate wallop into the years just ahead of us.

SB 1013 helps cement California’s leadership in phasing down emissions of HFCs. It supplements existing authority under which the California Air Resources Board has adopted initial rules to stop cut HFC use in applications where safer alternatives are available. The new law also initiates an incentives program to encourage businesses’ early adoption of climate-friendly cooling systems, an especially important part of transforming the cooling market away from harmful HFCs.

The California Cooling Act adopts into state law a set of HFC use limits originally adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency and coming into effect (depending on the use) between 2016 and 2025. These federal rules enjoyed broad support from both industry and environmental organizations. The Trump administration initially defended these rules against a lawsuit by two industry outliers. But after a conservative panel of the Court of Appeals in Washington unexpectedly dealt the rules a setback, the Trump EPA signaled its intent to roll them back. 

NRDC has joined two producers of safer alternatives, Honeywell and Chemours, in appealing that court decision to the Supreme Court.  But with the future of EPA’s HFC program uncertain, state action is critical to fill the gap. 

Enter California and other climate leadership states, which are moving to shore up the HFC transition by adopting the EPA rules into state regulations.

California’s adopting those rules will avoid statewide HFC emissions equivalent to 4.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2030, or about 15 percent of California’s total expected HFC emissions in that year. Adopting the rules also lays the groundwork for making even deeper HFC cuts, which the Air Resources Board has already begun planning.  

And California’s leadership sets the model for other states to follow. If a number of leading states adopt these regulations, the manufacturers of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and many other products will transition from HFCs to safer alternatives nationwide.

The California Cooling Act’s incentives program, if fully funded, will help speed up the transition to greener alternatives and drive market transformation in California and across the nation. The Air Resources Board expects these incentives to contribute to HFC emissions cuts of up to 30 percent in 2030. Cooling systems installed in the next few years will exist far into the future because these are large purchases that can last 15-20 years, so change is needed now.

The transition away from HFCs is broadly supported by American companies that have been investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation technologies.  

California’s leadership—especially if joined by other states—will reassure the marketplace that HFCs are on their way out the door.

This post co-authored with Alex Hillbrand.