Environment & Energy Report

Push to Curb Hydrofluorocarbons Draws GOP Red Flags (2)

Jan. 14, 2020, 5:40 PM; Updated: Jan. 14, 2020, 9:21 PM

A House bill drawing rare support from Republicans and industry to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—which are powerful greenhouse gases—raised red flags with some top Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), ranking member of Energy and Commerce’s Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the committee’s top Republican, suggested Tuesday that industry may be able to move to alternatives to HFCs without the federal mandate under the House bill (H.R. 5544).

Bill backers are suggesting phasing down HFCs “is a simple subject,” Shimkus said, “and I want to believe that tidy story.” But Shimkus questioned whether the bill is needed, arguing that some equipment makers are already phasing down use of the refrigerant used in heating and air-conditioning systems.

He said nothing in the bill would bar states from also phasing down the manufacture or use of HFCs, which would produce a patchwork of regulatory requirements.

“Increasing federal action is no barrier for more state action and sometimes serves as an incentive for state action,” Shimkus said.

Hydrofluorocarbons are greenhouse gases typically used as refrigerants that warm the Earth at a rate hundreds of times more than carbon dioxide.

It is unclear how quickly the bill will move within the House energy panel. But it would be taken up first by the environment and climate subcommittee before being marked up by the full energy committee, according to a Democratic aide with the committee.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said legislating an HFC phase-down would boost U.S. competitiveness.

“The European Union, and other nations like Japan, Canada, and China are already transitioning away from HFCs,” Pallone said. “This legislation will provide the certainty and stability American companies need to do the same.”

‘Rush’ Toward Solution: Walden

But Walden said the legislation “falls short of what is necessary to make good policy decisions” and complained “there appears to be a rush towards a pre-packaged legislative solution, without having developed a full understanding of the problem we are trying to solve.”

He said the energy committee “has not had a single hearing on the topic” in more than a decade and questioned whether the legislation is a better approach “than the natural turnover to newer, more innovative technologies.”

The American Innovation and Manufacturing Leadership Act, introduced Jan. 7 by Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), would direct the EPA to phase down HFCs, used in refrigeration, air-conditioning, and propellants for products including fire extinguishers.

The bill is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Association of Manufacturers—in part because phasing down HFCs would boost U.S. manufacturers of climate-friendly alternatives—but also the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group.

Boosting U.S. Competitiveness

Tonko’s bill is also is cosponsored by two Republicans, Reps. Pete Olson (R-Texas) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), and one Democrat, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.)

The House bill is a companion to Senate, legislation by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to phase down production and use of HFCs is one of the few significant climate actions to gain strong Republican support. His bill, (S. 2754) would essentially implement the U.S. agreement to a 2016 deal reached in Kigali, Rwanda, under which nearly 200 nations agreed to cut 80% of HFCs by mid-century.

Kennedy’s bill has the backing of nearly one-third of the Senate to phase down the climate pollutant, including 15 Republican cosponsors.

But Tuesday’s hearing suggested some groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute still have concerns over the bill’s impact.

Ben Lieberman, senior fellow for the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, sounded a positive note, saying the bill’s proposed phase-down schedule “is not great but not terrible” in allowing a gradual transition: the bill would mandate a 40% cut in HFCs by 2024 and an 80% reduction by 2034.

But the bill “destroys any certainty” by opening the door to lawsuits for environmental groups that could sue to phase down HFCs even faster than scheduled under the bill, he said.

“At a minimum, I believe that any policy change should allow the existing generation of HFC-dependent equipment to live out it useful life undisturbed, without any higher costs, to be replaced in due course by whatever comes next,” Lieberman said.

Rare Measure

David Doniger, senior strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, lauded the bill as rare climate measure to gain not only Republican backing but also industry support from the U.S. Chamber and manufacturing groups including the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy and the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute.

The bill’s phase-down would apply to all U.S. chemical makers and importers but also provides for accelerating HFC curbs if alternatives are available, Doniger said. It also would require the recovery of reusable chemicals and curbs in leaks during the servicing and disposal of equipment containing HFCs, he said.

John Galyen, board chairman of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) noted that HFCs were initially alternatives themselves to chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) that were depleting the stratospheric ozone layer. The bill also includes provisions to ensure a relatively consumer-friendly transition to alternatives, he said.

“At no point would this bill force anyone to abandon existing refrigeration or air conditioning equipment simply because that equipment uses HFCs,” Galyen said.

(Updates with information about bill path and timing.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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