Climate

Biden's EPA orders a slash in climate-warming chemicals used in air-conditioning and refrigeration

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Key Points
  • The Environmental Protection Agency is ordering a sharp cutback in the the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the climate-warming chemicals widely used in air-conditioning and refrigeration.
  • The move is the Biden administration's first major regulatory action to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The agency will start phasing down the chemicals next year and gradually curb production and importation by 85% over the next 15 years.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan testifies before a Senate Appropriations Committee Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the EPA's budget request on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 9, 2021.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Environmental Protection Agency is sharply curbing the use and production of hydrofluorocarbons, the climate-warming chemicals widely used in air-conditioning and refrigeration.

The move is the Biden administration's first major regulatory action to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions. It's also the first time the federal government has set national standards on hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at heating up the planet. The EPA said the rule could avoid up to 0.5 degrees Celsius of global warming by the end of the century.

The agency will begin regulating the chemicals next year, and will force industry to curb production and imports by 85% over the next 15 years, officials said during a virtual press briefing on Wednesday. The EPA proposed the rule in March and will finalize it on Thursday.

The agency's rule is expected to reduce the equivalent of 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide by mid-century, or roughly three years' worth of emissions from the country's power sector at 2019 levels, according to estimates from the EPA.

Such a reduction would help the Biden administration's pledge to curb U.S. emissions by in half by 2030 and reach a net-zero economy by 2050. The president issued an executive order in January that requested Congress to ratify the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which aims for the phase-down of HFCs.

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy on Wednesday called the agency's rule a victory for combatting climate change and securing U.S. jobs.

"As we move in this direction, we are also opening up a huge opportunity for American industries," McCarthy said during the briefing. "Reducing HFCs is a huge climate success story."

Emissions from HFCs rose between 2018 and 2019, according to the EPA, as demand for air-conditioning and refrigeration soared during historic high temperatures in the U.S.

Some U.S. manufacturers have already moved to more climate-friendly refrigerants, and some major chemical companies have supported the EPA's proposal to phase down HFCs, including The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, a trade group that represents manufacturers of heating and cooling equipment.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the new limits will help the country transition to more energy-efficient cooling technologies while creating new jobs.

"This action reaffirms what President Biden always says: When he thinks about climate, he thinks about jobs," Regan said during the briefing. "His administration knows that what's good for the environment is good for the economy."

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