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Environment

Bipartisan bill would authorize U.S. EPA to ratchet down HFCs

Supporters say measure would protect domestic chemical manufacturing jobs and environment

by Cheryl Hogue
February 20, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 9

Credit: Shutterstock
U.S. Congress is considering a bill that would decrease the use of HFC for applications such as car air conditiong systems.

Manufacturers of hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), a new generation of refrigerants that have very low potential to cause global warming, are getting a boost from U.S. Congress.

Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are backing a bill (S. 2448) that would authorize EPA to ratchet down the production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a class of refrigerants that are potent greenhouse gases. HFOs are beginning to replace HFCs in vehicle air conditioners, store refrigerators, and vending machines.

EPA restricted the use of HFCs and refrigerant blends containing HFCs in a 2015 rule. But Mexichem Fluor and Arkema, which make HFC-134a (1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane), challenged the regulation. HFC-134a has long been used as a refrigerant in car air conditioners.

A federal court sided with the two companies last year. It faulted EPA for basing the regulation on part of the Clean Air Act authorizing the agency to require replacement of compounds that deplete stratospheric ozone with safer substitutes. HFCs, which don’t hurt the Earth’s protective ozone layer, were developed as substitutes for hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which do.

The judicial ruling put the U.S. effort to phase out HFCs, as required under an international treaty, in limbo.

Senators from two states with large chemical industry presence introduced the bill on Feb. 15 to give EPA authority to regulate HFCs. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) says the legislation is designed to protect investment by Mexichem Fluor and its competitor Honeywell, which makes HFOs, in manufacturing facilities in Louisiana. And Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, says S. 2448 supports production of next-generation HFC substitutes and helps the U.S. meet its treaty obligations.

Honeywell and Mexichem Fluor say they back S. 2448, as does the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council.

Co-sponsors of the measure include Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

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