WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday will take its first significant step to curb climate change, an agency spokesman confirmed, moving to phase down chemicals used in refrigeration and air-conditioning that are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet.
The proposed regulation aims to reduce the production and importation of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years. It’s a goal shared by environmental groups and the business community, which jointly championed bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in December to tackle the pollutant.
The speed with which the E.P.A. is proposing the regulation underscores the level of attention the Biden administration is giving to climate change, said Francis Dietz, vice president for public affairs at the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, a trade group.
“They’re really moving swiftly,” he said. “It says they’re very serious about this.”
In communicating the gains it believes will be realized by tackling climate change, the E.P.A. estimated that the HFC rule will result in $283.9 billion in health and environmental benefits by the middle of the century.
The effort is part of President Biden’s ambitious strategy to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030. It also puts the United States in line with an international goal to reduce HFCs, which the Biden administration has said it will honor as part of its effort to revive American leadership in tackling climate change.
Like methane, HFCs have short-term warming effects far more powerful than carbon dioxide, but they don’t stay in the atmosphere as long. Scientists have estimated that reducing these types of greenhouse gases can have a palpable impact, slowing the pace of global warming by 0.6 degrees Celsius by midcentury.
“This is incredibly significant,” said Kristen N. Taddonio, a senior climate and energy adviser for the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, an environmental nonprofit group. “By taking fast action on these short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are the most potent, we can buy ourselves some time and actually help avoid climate tipping points.”
As part of a sweeping coronavirus relief bill, Congress last year approved language directing the E.P.A. to curb HFCs. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who at the time was the Democratic minority leader, called it “the single biggest victory in the fight against climate change to pass this body in a decade.”
The E.P.A. estimates that from 2022 to 2050, the rule will eliminate the equivalent of 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide — or about three years’ worth of emissions from America’s power sector.
The agency said it had performed an “environmental justice analysis” that found cuts to planet-warming emissions “would benefit populations that may be especially vulnerable to damages associated with climate change, such as the very young, elderly, poor, disabled and Indigenous populations.”
Echoing an economic theme that Mr. Biden has repeatedly promoted when discussing his climate plans, the E.P.A. said that American manufacturers were at the forefront of developing HFC alternatives and that the new regulations would position these companies to succeed at home and abroad.
Mr. Dietz said he hoped that federal regulation meant companies would not face a patchwork of HFC prohibitions that are now being formulated in different states.
“This is a big signal to the states that the administration takes this seriously and the federal government takes this seriously,” he said.
In the last days of the Obama administration, 197 nations including the United States signed an accord in Kigali, Rwanda, agreeing to phase out HFCs. President Donald J. Trump never brought the agreement to the Senate for ratification. Mr. Biden, who has rejoined the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change, has pledged to send the Kigali amendment to the Senate for approval.
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