A few months ago I had written an article on a newly introduced bill in the United States Senate. This bill known as the, ‘American Innovation and Manufacturing Act,’ aimed at phasing down the usage of HFC refrigerants over the next fifteen years. This same bill was actually introduced back in February of 2018 as well, but it ended up going nowhere. Now, in January of 2020, this bill has thirty-two backers from both parties.
It is still quite a long stretch if this bill gains further traction, but there was a sign of hope this week. A few days ago the United States House introduced their own version of the proposed HFC refrigerant phase down bill. The House bill was introduced into a subcommittee by two Democrats and two Republicans from New York, Texas, and California. The bill itself was very similar to the Senate bill. This House bill will phase down usage of HFC refrigerants by eighty-five percent over a fifteen year period.
Both bills aim to accomplish this by giving the phase down and phase out authority to the Environmental Protection Agency. It would then be up to the EPA to determine which refrigerants are phased down, phased out, and what timeline they would follow. You could think of this as the Montreal Protocol/Clean Air Act part two. It is the same thing that we saw in the 1990’s and 2000’s when the EPA began phasing out CFC and HCFC refrigerants such as R-12, R-502, and most recently R-22.
These bills are not only being backed by both Republicans and Democrats but they are also seeing outside support from such affiliations like the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI); the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); the US Chamber of Commerce; and the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy (ARAP). You will also see large refrigerant manufacturers like Chemours or Honeywell backing these bills. There is a lot of lobbying money involved with these bills.
All of these supporting parties claim that by phasing out HFC refrigerants the United States will see a tremendous growth in jobs and our economy. The numbers cited for the Senate bill state that over one-hundred and fifty-thousand jobs would be created and that we would see thirty-nine billion dollars in economic growth from the passing of this bill. On top of all that we would be introducing climate friendly polices.
What you read above was the official selling point for these bills. Jobs, growth, and climate. I’m sorry to say though folks, I just don’t buy it. These interested parties have been trying to phase down HFC refrigerants for the past five years and with each passing year they have been met with failure. I’m just glad that they are trying this the legal way now instead of trying to circumvent the system.
This all started back in the summer of 2015. It was then that the EPA introduced a new rule for their SNAP program. This rule, known as rule 20, was the first step at the EPA trying to phase down HFC refrigerants. Here’s the thing though, the EPA cited their authority to phase down HFC refrigerants from the Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol. The problem with this is that these laws/treaties were only meant for Ozone depleting substances such as CFC and HCFC refrigerants. These refrigerants contained chlorine and when that chlorine made its way into the Stratosphere it chipped away at the Ozone.
HFC refrigerants such as the ever popular ones like R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A do NOT damage the Ozone. Not in the slightest. These refrigerants do not contain chlorine and therefore cannot harm the Ozone. The problem with these refrigerants is what’s known as their Global Warming Potential (GWP). These refrigerants have a very high GWP number. This in turn means they are super Greenhouse Gases. The higher the GWP number the more impact the refrigerant has on Global Warming.
So, the EPA tried to extend their authority on Ozone depleting substances over to non-Ozone depleting substances. The sad part was that this was taken as the law of the land for a few years. After the new rule was introduced the industry and country just accepted it as the new status quo. It wasn’t until 2017 that a federal court ruled against the EPA citing that they overextended their authority and that they did NOT have the power to phase out HFC refrigerants as well. If they wanted to do this then they needed new legislation that would give them such powers.
This ruling caught everyone by surprise. Everyone had just assumed that the EPA’s overreach would just be accepted. Larger refrigerant manufacturers, who had a vested interest in phasing down HFC refrigerants, appealed the ruling hoping to get a different result in favor of the EPA. But, the results ended up being the same. The EPA’s plans for HFC phase down had been nixed. There was now no set plan within the US to phase down these climate damaging refrigerant gases.
It was a bit later that what’s known as the Kigali Amendment was moving forward. This amendment was an addendum to the now famous Montreal Protocol. The amendment was to phase down HFC refrigerants across the world. It was very similar to the EPA’s proposed HFC phase down plan. The United States, under the Obama Administration, signed the treaty amendment. All that needed to be done was to ratify the amendment in the Senate for it to become law within the United States. However, after Donald Trump came to power the Senate never received the chance to ratify the Kigali Amendment. There has been no indication from the Trump Administration that they will send the amendment to the Senate to ratify. It will instead sit in purgatory.
It was after the failed EPA ruling and the stagnation on the Kigali Amendment that lobbyists began working on creating the bills we now have within the Senate and the House. This seems to be the only chance left to phase down HFC refrigerants across the country. I am still very skeptical of this working though folks. Yes, while the chances have improved now that there are two bills in both Houses there is still on very large obstacle in the way… Donald Trump.
I mean think about it for a moment. If Trump hasn’t backed Kigali and has instead sat on it for years… why in the world would he sign these HFC bills coming from the Houses? It doesn’t make sense. Perhaps their hope here is that by the time the bills have left the lower committees and are ready to began being voted on the Election would have occurred and a new President could be coming to the White House.
Otherwise, if Trump is elected again then there is no chance that this bill misses the veto… and that is if it even clears both Houses. If we want an HFC phase down in the near future within the United States then there are two possible ways. The first is through attrition. Pressure the manufacturers to switch to newer more climate friendly refrigerants. Then, over time, the HFCs will slowly fade away. We are already seeing this with R-134a in automobile applications. Ninety percent of the vehicles made in 2020 are using the climate friendly 1234yf. R-134a is dying slowly.
The other option, which is admittedly more messy, is having states come up with their own individual phase down policies. There are quite a few states that have already done this such as California, New York, and Washington. If enough states get on board then you will have that war of attrition again as manufacturers will be forced to switch to more climate friendly options. The downside here is you get a mish-mash of laws and regulations that vary by state. This can make it very difficult for businesses and manufacturers to operate in multiple states.
All that being said folks, I don’t have much hope in these bills moving forward. Even if they gather the votes they have that almighty veto to contend with. I’ve been wrong before though, so who knows for sure. If nothing happens this year then watch the election and see whom gets elected. If it’s a Democrat then we may yet see HFCs being phased down sometime in 2021.