The Environmental Protection Agency is advancing rules to reduce the use of coolants from air conditioners and refrigerators that scientists link to global warming — and appliance manufacturers are largely on board.
The proposal would create a process for reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons in cooling appliances, the first step toward meeting a new mandate from Congress to cut HFCs by 85% over 15 years, the EPA said.
Lawmakers passed that mandate late last year as part of a $2 trillion spending and COVID-19 aid package.
The new EPA rule will be the first time the federal government has set national limits on HFCs, which were used to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in the 1980s. Many states have their own rules.
The Obama administration in its final days had started the process to align with other nations on HFCs, but the Trump administration never brought the agreement to the Senate for ratification. The action is now part of the Biden administration’s ambitious strategy to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030.
The effort to cut HFCs largely aligns with international goals and with steps already taken by the appliance industry, which had long anticipated regulatory changes. The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, a trade group, has said U.S. companies have spent billions of dollars developing alternative chemicals to sell globally, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Privately held Rheem Manufacturing Co., which makes air-conditioning equipment, welcomed a “uniform federal approach” for the industry to follow, the EPA statement said.
The goal to cut HFCs as proposed by the EPA is the equivalent of 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from 2022 through 2050. It compares to almost three years of U.S. power sector emissions at 2019 levels.
HFCs, a synthetic coolant, are more potent than carbon dioxide, at least initially. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere longer. Still, scientists have estimated that reducing HFC gases can slow the pace of global warming by 0.6 degrees Celsius by midcentury.
The EPA said it will set a baseline for the amount of HFCs that are produced and consumed, and use that to establish a cap on the levels that can be created domestically and imported. Based on that data, the agency will allocate allowances to companies to continue producing and importing HFCs for the years 2022 and 2023, as well as developing an enforcement system. Allowances will decrease over time.
The EPA said the effort could return $284 billion to the U.S. economy from 2022 through 2050, which it based on less uncertainty around compliance costs for manufacturers and the reduction of GHG warming.