New EPA Rule Cracks Down on Harmful Greenhouse Gases Used in Refrigerators, Air Conditioning

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new rule to curb the use of hydrofluorocarbons commonly found in refrigerators, air conditioners and other appliances as it tries to reduce the production and import of HFCs in the U.S. by 85 percent over the next 15 years.

The rule, which was made under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020 passed by Congress in December, is intended to “sharply reduce” the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The EPA describes HFCs as “the most potent and longest-lasting type of greenhouse gases emitted by human activities.” These gases are especially dangerous because they are thousands of times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide and can remain in the atmosphere for centuries.

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EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan called the move significant, saying in a statement, “With this proposal, EPA is taking another significant step under President Biden’s ambitious agenda to address the climate crisis. 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. The phasedown of HFCs is also widely supported by the business community, as it will help promote American leadership in innovation and manufacturing of new climate-safe products. Put simply, this action is good for our planet and our economy.”

Over the last 30 years, emissions of HFCs have risen 275 percent, according to the EPA. The agency estimates that the new rule will prevent the equivalent of 187 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, which it says is approximately equal to the total emissions put out by one of every seven vehicles in the U.S. Additionally, the EPA said it expects the rule will bring $284 billion in cumulative benefits between 2022 and 2050.

Stephen Yurek, head of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, which represents appliance manufacturers, told the Washington Post that the industry members “appreciate the expediency” of the administration’s issuing of the rule. “EPA’s action will help create the certainty necessary for U.S. companies to maintain their natural technological advantage in the global HFC marketplace,” he said.

HFCs are also the target of global climate efforts. In 2016, 197 countries including the U.S. adopted an amendment of the Montreal Protocol, agreeing to reduce HFCs emissions by 80 percent over 30 years. Much of the emissions of HFCs result from supermarkets’ massive refrigeration needs and air conditioning of commercial buildings, but manufacturers have started to produced more climate-friendly alternative refrigerants in recent years.

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