Senate approves first climate treaty in decades

“The HFC transition is expected to spur literally billions of dollars of economic investment in this country…create tens of thousands of jobs and dramatically increase U.S. exports while using technology developed in this country,” said the President of the Senate for the Environment and Public Works. Tom Carper (D-Delete) said Wednesday.

Originally approved in the 1980s, the historic Montreal Protocol succeeded in reducing emissions of chemicals that harm the ozone layer, but in turn prompted manufacturers to switch to a new family of chemicals. – hydrofluorocarbons – which do not harm the ozone layer but are powerful greenhouse gases. . Today, HFCs are used in refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as in foams and aerosols.

Depending on its composition, one pound of HFCs can have as much warming potential as hundreds or even tens of thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide. This makes capping their use an essential part of the fight against short-term warming; the Kigali Amendment will prevent 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming this century, according to the Biden administration.

The amendment obliges countries to reduce their use of HFCs by 85% over 15 years. It was negotiated at an international gathering in Rwanda in 2016 by John Kerry, then Secretary of State and now President Joe Biden’s international climate envoy, and Gina McCarthy, then EPA Administrator, who comes to step down as Biden’s national climate adviser.

Congress already did the hard work in late 2020, when the Senate reached agreement on legislation empowering the EPA to more forcefully regulate HFCs in order to meet the Kigali target.

Since then, major business interests have pushed for ratification, in part because U.S. manufacturers are poised to take a leading role in selling next-generation refrigerants with far less climate impact. . Failure to ratify the treaty would also have resulted in trade restrictions in the 2030s.

The United States Chamber of Commerce has made ratification a “key vote” and a letter this week argued that approving it would “strengthen the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers working to develop alternative technologies and level the global economic playing field.”

“The Senate signals that Kigali matters by ratifying the amendment,” Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, said in a statement. “It matters for the jobs it will create; it matters for the global competitive advantage it creates; it counts with the additional exports that will result and it counts for the technological pre-eminence of the United States.

Despite having already given the EPA the power to effectively enforce the treaty, many Republicans still opposed ratification.

“Many of the benefits and jobs being touted come from American innovations and our national legislation, not Kigali ratification,” said Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). “We did it here, we did it well. We don’t need to get tangled up in another UN treaty.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to support a GOP amendment that calls for China to stop being classified as a developing country under the United Nations’ main climate convention, and instead be identified as a developed country with more responsibilities. The amendment made ratification of the Kigali Treaty conditional on the State Department filing an amendment with the UN reclassifying China as a developed nation – but not on the successful passage of that amendment.

In the meantime, the EPA moved quickly to flex its new HFC regulatory muscles.

The agency issued a major rule last year capping the use of HFCs in the United States and reducing it over the next 15 years in accordance with the Kigali Amendment schedule. The EPA will distribute annual allowances to companies, which can then be traded or sold. These regulations have drawn only narrow legal challenges, particularly over the EPA’s ban on the use of disposable HFC cartridges, which the agency says is a key part of its enforcement efforts.

The EPA is also considering a litany of petitions filed by states, environmentalists and industry groups seeking specific end-use restrictions on certain HFC substances in various products.

The EPA also plans to reinstate a rule requiring HFC leak inspections and repairs for industrial and commercial refrigerators that was rolled back under the Trump administration, though final action isn’t expected until 2024.

Ben Lefebvre contributed to this report.


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