Senate Ratifies Climate Deal on Planet-Warming Refrigerants

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(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — In a major action to address climate change, the Senate on Wednesday ratified an international agreement that compels the United States and other countries to limit use of hydrofluorocarbons, highly potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration and air conditioning that are far more powerful than carbon dioxide.

In the context of global climate change mitigation, the Kigali Amendment (an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol) requires that participating nations reduce their production and usage of hydrofluorocarbons.

The Senate approved the treaty with 69 votes to 27, a margin that was more than the required two-thirds vote for ratification.

Global warming is being attributed to HFCs, which are currently under attack. A total of nearly 200 countries signed a 2016 agreement in Kigali in Rwanda to restrict HFCs, and seek out more eco-friendly alternatives. Scientists believe the agreement could prevent the world from experiencing a half degree Celsius increase in global temperature. It has been ratified by more than 130 countries, including India, China and Russia.

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President Joe Biden made a pledge to support the Kigali accord during the 2020 Presidential Campaign. The agreement was submitted to Senate in January last year. This came months after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a rule that would restrict U.S. HFCs production. In turn, the EPA ruling followed a 2020 law that authorized a phaseout for 15 years of HFCs in America.

“The Kigali Amendment will be one of the most significant bipartisan measures the Senate takes on all year,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

By ratifying the treaty, “not only will we protect our planet,” Schumer said Tuesday, but senators also will provide “a golden opportunity to help American businesses dominate in an emerging (global) business” of refrigerants that do not rely on HFCs.

“If we fail to ratify the amendment, the rest of the world is going to move on without us,” Schumer said. “Without Kigali, we’re going to play second fiddle to nations like China, whose businesses will surpass ours in developing viable HFC alternatives, taking jobs that by all rights belong here in America.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also urged approval, calling the amendment “a win for the economy and the environment.”

Senate ratification “would enhance the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers working to develop alternative technologies, and level the global economic playing field,” the group said in a letter to the Senate.

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Ratification of the amendment “would continue the important, bipartisan action Congress took in 2020 with passage of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which phased out domestic HFC manufacturing,” said Jack Howard, the chamber’s senior vice president for government affairs.

Chris Jahn, president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council, an industry group, called the amendment a “tremendous market opportunity for our members to take advantage of game-changing technologies” that allow refrigeration in a more environmentally responsible manner than HFCs.

“”This is one of those truly rare things you get in the policy world where it is a win-win” for the environment and business, he said in an interview.

Each year millions of air conditioners and refrigerators are sold all over the globe. U.S. companies are ready to fulfill that demand. Jahn cited growing markets in Asia and South America as well as Europe.

David Doniger, a senior climate and clean energy official with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Kigali Amendment builds on the the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which he called “the world’s most successful environmental treaty.″ He said “the ozone is on the mend because the world took action to eliminate″ chlorofluorocarbons, also known as CFCs, and other ozone-destroying chemicals, Doniger said.

Doniger indicated that replacing HFCs by safer, more readily available options is the next natural step.

Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said ratification of the Kigali Amendment would “unleash billions of dollars in U.S. economic benefits and create some 150,000 American jobs by 2027.”

Senator John Kennedy (Republican from Louisiana) and Carper pushed for 2020 legislation to phase out HFCs. They claimed it would provide U.S. businesses the legal certainty they need to make alternative coolants. They represent the states in which chemical companies make alternative refrigerants.

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