If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Climate Change

Biden climate order directs US to join HFC treaty

Environmental justice provisions could affect US chemical plants

by Cheryl Hogue
January 28, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 4


Photo shows US president Joe Biden at a lecturn in the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris and presidential climate envoy John Kerry standing in the background.
Credit: Anna Moneymaker/CNP/Polaris/Newscom
Joe Biden's executive order on climate includes provisions on environmental justice.

US president Joe Biden’s recent executive order on climate change includes provisions impacting a class of commercial chemicals and, likely, chemical plants.

Biden called for the US to officially join a key environmental treaty controlling a class of synthetic greenhouse gases. The pact ramps down the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used as refrigerants, solvents, and etching agents in silicon chip manufacturing. HFCs replaced two types of chemicals that erode stratospheric ozone—chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons. While HFCs don’t harm the ozone layer, they are potent greenhouse gases.

The HFC treaty, reached in 2016 in Rwanda’s capital city, is the Kigali Amendment to the 1989 Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. The US signed the Kigali deal but is not yet an official treaty partner. For that to happen, the Senate must give its advice and consent. Biden directed Secretary of State Antony Blinken to formally request the Senate do so.

The US chemical industry, environmental advocates, and refrigeration equipment manufacturers back the US’s joining the Kigali pact. They lobbied the Trump administration to this end to no avail.

Biden’s directive also calls for the federal government to beef up its work on environmental justice and includes actions likely to affect chemical facilities. For instance, the order calls for the White House Office of Environmental Quality to publish maps highlighting disadvantaged communities that face disproportionately high adverse health and environmental impacts of industrial pollution.

Speaking before he signed the order Jan. 27, the president offered two examples of what he termed “hard-hit” communities near polluting facilities. Both are home to clusters of chemical plants. One is Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The other, which Biden calls the Route 9 corridor, is in his home state of Delaware, near Wilmington.

Biden couched his climate order as a massive job-creation effort—one that extends to positions for academic and federal scientists in efforts that will, by necessity, involve chemistry. “We’re going to need scientists, the national labs, land-grant universities, [historically] Black colleges and universities to innovate the technologies needed to generate, store, and transmit clean electricity across distances, and battery technology, and a whole range of other things,” he said.

Among its other provisions, the directive calls for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to identify which strategies to curb greenhouse gas emissions will result in the greatest improvements to air and water quality.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.