Environment & Energy Report

Hydrofluorocarbons Legislation Would Be a Climate Win Now

Dec. 4, 2020, 9:00 AM

Action on climate change is long overdue and will be a major focus for the next administration and in the coming Congress. But we don’t have to wait until next year to score a major win for both the economy and the climate. In the lame duck session, Congress can and should pass legislation to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the potent climate-changing chemicals found in air conditioners, refrigerators, and many other products.

The HFC legislation, called the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (the AIM Act), was drafted collaboratively by industry and environmental leaders, has broad bipartisan support, and is backed by a unique alliance spanning from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Some History

The two of us have worked cooperatively on global and national policies surrounding fluorocarbons since the early 1980s. After scientists established that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemicals were depleting the stratospheric ozone layer that protects us from dangerous UV radiation, a consensus emerged to phase those chemicals out worldwide.

In 1987, the Reagan administration negotiated the Montreal Protocol, a treaty ratified with unanimous Senate support in 1988. And in 1990, Congress passed Clean Air Act amendments to carry out the phase-out in the U.S. Every country on earth is now a party to the Montreal treaty, which has enjoyed bipartisan presidential support here at home from the beginning.

We extended that consensus in 2016, when nations agreed on the Kigali amendment to the Montreal treaty to phase down HFCs, one of the replacements for the original CFCs. HFCs do not deplete the ozone layer, but they are potent greenhouse gases, some with thousands of times the heat-trapping punch of carbon dioxide.

The Senate and House have been working on the AIM Act for almost three years. In September, the House passed HFC phasedown legislation as part of a broader energy bill, and key senators—led by John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and John Kennedy (R-La.)—reached consensus on a version that is backed by a bipartisan super-majority of senators and is ready for legislative action in the Senate. These bills provide for an orderly, market- and consumer-friendly transition from HFCs to climate-friendlier alternatives.

Economic Benefits of the AIM Act

The AIM Act’s economic benefits are significant. Transitioning from HFCs will create 33,000 new American manufacturing jobs, induce $12.5 billion in new investment in the U.S. economy, and produce a 25% increase in the export of American-made refrigerants and related equipment to burgeoning foreign markets, according to a University of Maryland study.

Passing the AIM Act now will harvest immediate and long-term economic and environmental benefits for the U.S. By setting a clear path for the HFC transition, the bill provides a ready stimulus for our economy without costing American taxpayers a dime.

It also provides clear legal authority to guide an orderly transition from HFCs into next generation technologies—stabilizing an uncertain regulatory and commercial landscape—while insulating consumers from price shocks, supply shortages and other disruptions.

The AIM Act is a rare opportunity for the leaders of both parties to score a significant win for the economy and environment. It protects our global climate, helps American manufacturers and workers and sustains the bipartisan consensus on managing of fluorocarbons now entering its fourth decade.

A clear bipartisan victory is in reach. Now it’s up to congressional leaders to push it across the finish line.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

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Author Information

Kevin Fay is an attorney at Alcade & Fay and executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy.

David Doniger is an attorney and senior strategic director for the Climate/Clean Energy Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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