Super Week for Curbing HFC Super Pollutants at Global Summit

It’s been a super week of progress at the Global Climate Action Summit on phasing out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the super pollutants found in millions of products, from air conditioners to aerosol sprays, that Americans use every day. 

Phasing out HFCs is vital to save the climate. They are the fastest-growing climate pollutants. Pound for pound, they have hundreds or thousands of times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. Eliminating them will avoid adding up to a half degree Celsius by 2100There is no way to meet the central goal of the Paris Agreement—keeping warming under 1.5-2.0 degrees—if we let HFCs make things worse. That makes the HFC phase-out one of the top 10 climate measures highlighted in the America’s Pledge Opportunity Agenda.

Fortunately, working closely with NRDC, leading states and businesses stepped up all through the past week with commitments to faster action to replace HFCs with safer alternatives. Here are the highlights:

Four state leaders stepped up to speed the nation’s transition from HFCs to safer replacements.
 

  • California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Cooling Act (SB 1013), sponsored by Senator Ricardo Lara, which accelerates the HFC phase out in the world’s 5th largest economy. SB 1013 adopts into state law a slate of HFC limits for air conditioning, refrigeration, and other uses, creates financial incentives for replacing old equipment, and strengthens the California Air Resources Board’s tools to replace HFCs.  
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and Connecticut Governor Daniel Malloy announced commitments for their states to adopt HFC rules like California’s next year (here, here, and here).
  • More states in the U.S. Climate Alliance are likely to join the wave on HFCs this fall. 
Gov. Jerry Brown signs Sen. Ricardo Lara's California Cooling Act

Industry leaders in air conditioner and refrigeration joined with NRDC in new HFC commitments.
 

  • Eight companies and AHRI (the industry trade group) joined NRDC in a letter to the California Air Resources Board supporting rapid implementation of the California Cooling Act. 
  • These industry leaders added a new commitment, going beyond the SB 1013, by supporting rules to convert new home air conditioners to new safer refrigerants by 2023.
  • And, crucially, the industry-NRDC coalition committed to support the adoption of these requirements in states all across the nation
Yours truly with Joe Trauger, AHRI

State action and industry-environmental cooperation are shoring up the Washington leadership void.
 

California, New York, Maryland, and Connecticut are stepping up, with industry and environmental support, to counter the ill winds blowing from the nation’s capital. 

The states are patterning their HFC rules on the smart HFC limits set by Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 and 2016, under the 1990 Clean Air Act. The agency’s “Significant New Alternatives Policy” (SNAP) program has guided industry investments in safer alternatives to replace the ozone-depleting CFCs for nearly 25 years. The law requires EPA to keep lists of acceptable and unacceptable alternatives, and to update those lists when safer alternatives are developed. 

EPA originally listed HFCs in 1994 as an improvement over the ozone-depleting and climate-damaging CFCs. To their credit, leading companies invested more than a billion dollars over the next two decades to develop safer coolants (ranging from hydrocarbons to hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs)) and to redesign air conditioning and refrigeration equipment to use them. The alternative compounds have much lower heat-trapping power (GWP) than today’s HFCs—some with as little as 1/1000th the impact. And the new equipment uses less energy, which means less carbon pollution from power plants. 

The EPA SNAP rules went a long way to meeting America’s national commitment to replace these super pollutants, embodied in the HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol (the treaty that saved the ozone layer) adopted in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2016. 

Sadly, the HFC transition kicked off by EPA’s 2015 and 2016 rules has been thrown into turmoil by an adverse court decision—a divided 2-1 ruling from the federal appeals court in Washington, written by Judge Brett Kavanaugh—and by the Trump administration’s decision to roll back yet another EPA climate safeguard. And even though business leaders, Republican Senators, and conservative groups support ratifying the Kigali HFC agreement, President Trump still hasn’t decided whether to send it to the Senate for advice and consent.

Here again, industry and NRDC are working together. We’re appealing that court decision to the Supreme Court, which likely will decide in October whether to hear the case. The companies and NRDC filed our final briefs with the high court in the middle of this busy week (here and here). We’re working with industry to protect the current EPA rules. And we’re jointly supporting the Kigali Amendment.

But together with industry, we’re turning to the states to keep the HFC transition going, because we can’t count on Washington right now. We can’t let their anti-regulatory ideology trump the common ground between industry and the environmental community on the need to replace the super-polluting HFCs.

We’re going to work together—states, industry, and NRDC—to keep America on track to meet our international obligations. And we will succeed. 

About the Authors

David Doniger

Senior Strategic Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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