WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday proposed a rule to slash the use of a potent climate-warming gas commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners by 85% over the next 15 years, a move it said will play a big part in U.S. plans to halve its greenhouse gas emissions this decade.
The proposal to curb the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) would keep the equivalent of 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from reaching the atmosphere over that period, it said, a climate impact similar to preventing the combustion of a trillion tons of coal.
“By phasing down HFCs, which can be hundreds to thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, EPA is taking a major action to help keep global temperature rise in check,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
The proposal would sets annual “allocations” for each U.S. HFC producer and importer that gradually decline over time. It arises from a law passed by Congress in December 2020 that directed the EPA to issue regulations phasing down HFC production and imports.
The EPA said the move will contribute significantly to U.S. President Joe Biden’s broader climate goals, which include reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030 – a target he announced last month at a U.S.-hosted international climate summit.
Biden campaigned on a promise to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050 to help the planet avert the worst impacts of global warming.
The proposal to cut HFC use won the support of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute trade group for providing the industry with clear targets.
Some companies had already moved to alternative refrigerants with lower global-warming potential, along with so-called “natural refrigerants” such as ammonia and propane.
“EPA’s action will help create the certainty necessary for U.S. companies to maintain their natural technological advantage in the global HFC marketplace,” said AHRI President and CEO Stephen Yurek.
Karen Meyers, vice president of the Rheem Manufacturing Company, a member of another trade group called Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, said the company will work with the EPA as the industry moves “to next generation compounds and user technologies and improving refrigerant management.”
Previously popular refrigerants like CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) were banned decades ago under a global treaty called the Montreal Protocol after scientists learned they were depleting the ozone layer.
Biden issued an executive order earlier this year seeking to ask Congress to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 protocol which calls for a phase down of HFCs. The EPA proposal would put the United States on track to achieve the goals of that amendment if Congress decides to ratify it.
(Reporting by Valerie VolcoviciEditing by Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)