Cutting Super Climate Pollutant Touted as No-Cost Job Creator

April 17, 2020, 5:46 PM

Backers of stalled efforts to pass federal legislation that would curb production of potent greenhouse gases are seeking a second chance by re-framing the effort as a no-cost way to create jobs.

Disagreement over regulating the family of chemicals, known as hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, scuttled a big Senate energy package (S. 2657) brought to the floor by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in March.

The package had broad bipartisan backing, but ran aground after Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and other Republicans objected to an amendment by Sens. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) that sought to curb the compounds, which are used in heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems around the world.

Supporters of HFC restrictions are trying to galvanize congressional action by touting the thousands of jobs that could be either be preserved or maintained by phasing in alternatives.

Curbing HFCs, which are far more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, could lead to job creation, they argue, as Congress struggles to address the economic shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic, including the 22 million who have filed jobless claims in just the last four weeks.

Those jobs could be created “without costing the government anything,” Kennedy and a bipartisan group of a dozen senators wrote in a letter this month to the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Kennedy and Carper said the bill, known as the AIM Act (S. 2754), would create 33,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs—and another 117,000 “good paying indirect jobs"—and boost U.S. manufacturing output by nearly $37 billion by 2027, according to the letter, signed by Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), and nine Democrats.

They cited the backing of business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as they try to sway Barrasso to allow the legislation to move to the floor. The chamber generally backs the reductions, but has suggested some tweaks to the legislation.

Environment Chairman Unmoved

Getting Barasso on their side may be an uphill battle, though.

“The chairman does not support the legislation as it’s currently written,” said Mike Danylak, spokesman for the environment committee’s Republican majority. “He wants to hear from all stakeholders on the bill to see if it can be improved.”

Barrasso still “has concerns with any legislative effort that will layer new federal rules on a patchwork of current or future state rules” and competing state requirements on manufacturers could raise costs for consumers, Danylak said.

Barrasso has argued the measure would hurt companies that produce and use HFCs. He has sought language, which many Democrats reject, to preempt states from adopting restrictions that go beyond any federal limits that Congress passes. Barrasso also has pointed to White House objections to the measure.

Pushing for Markup

Meanwhile, some industry groups are pushing the GOP-controlled environment panel to take action on Kennedy and Carper’s measure.

The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) wants the committee to follow up on its March 25 hearing on the legislation, with a committee markup sometime in June or July.

Both the Senate bill and a House companion bill (H.R. 5544) 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.

That would mean the bill could be attached to spending measures or some other must-pass bill, though any progress will depend on the degree to whether the nation and Congress are still largely consumed with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our point is that a good next step would be markup. And we are well aware that there are changes” Barrasso is likely to demand, said Samantha Slater, AHRI’s senior vice president of government affairs.

“The best way to get those changes made and interested parties to the table and have those discussions would be to schedule that markup—nothing gets to a compromise quite like a deadline,” she said.

Barrasso is focused for now on the responses from outside groups, which have until April 29 to provide additional detail as requested by various members of the committee.

Industry Objections

Some of those responses, including those from manufacturers of household appliances, suggest not all U.S. industries are board with the bill as written, Danylak said.

“Outside of the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning and refrigeration industry sector, it appears that most industry sectors who submitted testimony have serious concerns with the bill,” Danylak said, “and based on their breadth of comments, do not appear to have been consulted in the legislation’s development.”

The Aerospace industries Association is among those with lingering concerns. Some uses of HFCs “do not have readily available substitutes, such as for on-board fire suppression agents on commercial and military aircraft,” according to a letter sent to the committee from Tim McClees, AIA’s vice president for legislative affairs.

But the World Resources Institute, in its own letter to the committee, said the U.S. “cannot afford to miss any opportunity to support American workers and businesses” particularly given the U.S. economy “is on the ropes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloomberglaw.com; Chuck McCutcheon at cmccutcheon@bloombergenvironment.com

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