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Greenhouse Gases

Senators strike deal for US phasedown of HFCs

Provision on these potent greenhouse gases will be added to an energy bill

by Cheryl Hogue
September 11, 2020

Photo shows a kiosk in Yellowstone National Park with people lined up to rent bear spray.
Credit: US National Park Service/Jim Peaco
Yellowstone National Park in the US rents canisters of pepper spray to hikers for warding off bears in the wilderness. Lawmakers would deem HFC-containing bear spray as an essential use for these potent greenhouse gases.

Breaking through a legislative deadlock that has extended through most of this year, key senators announced a deal for the US to phase down hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) production over the next 25 years.

HFCs are refrigerants used in air conditioners and commercial freezers, among other applications. Chemical makers introduced them as replacements for stratospheric ozone–depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). HFCs are potent greenhouse gases and emissions of these chemicals are increasing worldwide.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and John Kennedy (R-LA) have sought an HFC phasedown. They ran into opposition from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and other Republicans who raised concerns about possible adverse impacts on consumers and small businesses.

In a deal unveiled Sept. 10, Barrasso, Carper, and Kennedy agreed to HFC language that will be tacked onto a broad energy bill (S. 2657) that could see progress in Congress in coming weeks.

As Carper and Kennedy sought, the deal would require the US Environmental Protection Agency to lower the amount of HFCs that can be produced or imported in the country. That amount will reach 15% of the 2011–13 average by 2036.

But the agreement would also preempt states and local governments from regulating HFCs for uses deemed essential as part of the deal. These include uses in medical inhalers, sprays such as those hikers carry to fend off bears, semiconductor manufacturing, and military applications considered mission critical.

Congress is acting on HFC control in the wake of a 2017 court ruling that struck down an EPA attempt control these chemicals under the Clean Air Act.

Supporters of HFC controls include a major manufacturing group—the US Chamber of Commerce—as well as environmental activists and the heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration industry. The HFC provision is likely to garner support in the US House of Representatives, but it’s unclear whether that chamber will back the energy bill the amendment is attached to.



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