In Rare Bipartisan Agreement on Climate, U.S. Senators Forge Plan to Phase Out Use of a Potent Greenhouse Gas

A group of U.S. Senate Republicans have authored an amendment to an energy and manufacturing bill that would launch a transition away from hydrofluorocarbons, (HFCs) a class of chemical refrigerant that is considered a potent greenhouse gas.

Introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman climaR-WY, Ranking Democrat Tom Carper D-DE, and Senator John Kennedy R-LA, the language amends the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2019 to require the reduction of production and consumption of HFCs by 30% every four years until 2036.

Used in home and office air conditioners across the country, HFCs produce a greenhouse gas effect many hundreds of times stronger than CO2. While they were originally created to replace another chemical coolant that was found to deplete the ozone layer, they’ve now been singled out as a powerful driver of the climate crisis.

“This amendment brings us one step closer to implementing an HFC phase down and reaping the substantial economic benefits associated with this transition to new refrigerant technologies,” said President and CEO of the Air Conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute Stephen Yurek in a statement.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the AHRI is just one of a handful of think tanks, like the National Association of Manufacturers, and corporations like Honeywell, that believe the transition from HFCs would not only help the environment, but also allow a new dimension of market innovation and competition to spur growth in a sector that Congress describes as contributing almost $200 billion annually to the economy through the employment of almost 800,000 people.

All 197 member states of the UN already ratified the 1987 Montreal Protocol on ozone-depleting substances, and 102 have signed on to the 2016 Kigali Amendment that added HFCs to the list of controlled-substances after they were found to have a very high global-warming potential.

There’s a sense that if the U.S. aligns its policy with the Kigali Amendment, it will make the economy more competitive abroad, since the removal of HFCs from American-made goods would allow more products to be exported to countries already in line with Kigali.

The Montreal Protocol is one of the United Nations’ true success stories, with the world having phased out 98% of all ozone-depleting substances—to repair the ozone hole that restored the earth’s UV sun shield, essential to our health.

The ozone layer restoration has prevented an estimated 2 million deaths a year from skin cancers like melanoma, and 135 million gigatons of CO2 and equivalents from entering the atmosphere.

The bill is still in committee, but with Republican support, it stands a decent chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate when it comes up for a vote later this year, with GOP author John Barrasso hoping to pass it quickly to the President’s desk before Congress adjourns in January.

“This amendment would spur billions of dollars of economic growth in domestic manufacturing and create tens of thousands of new jobs, all while helping our planet avoid half a degree Celsius in global warming,” Sen. Tom Carper said in a statement. “At a time when we could all use some good news, this is great news for our economy and our planet. Let’s get it done.”