A $35 billion investment in clean power and other climate initiatives hitched a ride on the latest COVID-19 relief package. Backed by Senate Republicans as well as Democrats, the legislation will be the first significant climate change law in more than a decade — if it gets past President Trump’s desk this week.
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“This agreement protects both American consumers and American businesses,” said Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, as reported by The New York Times. “We can have clean air without damaging our economy.”
One of the most important parts of this new legislation is a requirement for manufacturers to phase out coolants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While HFCs are a small percentage of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, they have a disproportionate effect. HFCs have 1,000 times the ability to trap heat compared to carbon dioxide.
In 2016, 197 nations agreed that HFCs had to go. They signed what’s called the Kigali agreement because it was signed in Kigali, Rwanda. Scientists say that if all nations complied with phasing out HFCs, it could prevent an atmospheric temperature increase of almost 1°F. An atmospheric temperature increase of 3.6°F would be catastrophic, so ending HFCs could be of great help in avoiding this. Trump never ratified the Kigali agreement, instead opposing efforts to curb HFCs.
This new legislation requires companies to decrease HFC production and consumption to about 15% of the 2012 levels by 2036. The EPA will oversee this phase-out.
U.S. chemical companies strongly support phasing out HFCs, and most have already turned to climate-friendlier alternatives. If nobody could use HFCs, those who have already made the responsible choice will be at a more financially competitive advantage.
Stephen Yurek was in Kigali in 2016, and, as chief executive of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, has been lobbying lawmakers since. “U.S. companies are already the leaders with the technology that has been developed to replace the less environmentally friendly refrigerants,” he said. “This bill is a victory for the manufacturers of all these products — not just the refrigerants; the equipment and component manufacturers.”
Now the legislation’s proponents are crossing their fingers that Trump won’t stall it. Yurek said he didn’t even want to use the word “climate” when discussing the bill. “We didn’t want to give him any excuse to not sign it.”
Image via Tim Hüfner