350NYC activists successfully pressed the NY City Council to pass an historic bill mandating Building Energy Efficiency. Now we’re working to ban climate-damaging refrigerants from our supermarkets and to continue important programs like composting and plastic reduction even during the Covid-19 pandemic. We also now have a Local Issues sub-group focusing solely on Transportation.

 

THE FINAL ACT OF 2020 – 

CONGRESS VOTES TO PHASE-DOWN GREENHOUSE GASES USED AS REFRIGERANTS   

350NYC.org and partners in Drawdown NYC Celebrate the Passing of the American Innovation in Manufacturing (A.I.M.) Amendment in the Final Days of 2020

MEMBERS of 350NYC and their partners in Drawdown NYC have been determined advocates for legislative efforts to phase-down the manufacture and use of the refrigerants or coolants, potent greenhouse gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  Due to the rapid increase in demand globally for appliances containing the gases they are predicted to account for 10% of global GHG emissions by 2035. 

After months of stalemate success came in the final days of the 2020 Congressional session  with the passage of the American Innovation in Manufacturing (A.I.M.) Amendment. This bill, and additional climate legislation included in the Stimulus Package,  represent the first significant climate legislation passed in Congress in 10 years. A.I.M. was originally introduced by Senators Carper (D-DE) and Kennedy (R-LA). New York State congressional representatives Tonko (NY-20) and Stefanik (NY-21) introduced the House bill (originally HR 5544). 

The amendment gives the EPA the authority to phase-down production and imports of HFCs equivalent to 85% of the 2013 baseline amounts. The time-line is in agreement with the terms of  Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol signed by  197 nations in 2016, but not ratified  the U.S. The Rhodium Group estimated that estimates that HFCs emissions will peak in 2023 and decline to about 40% by 2035. Despite this welcome advance, the U.S. is far behind Europe, where F-gas Regulation will reduce the emissions by two-thirds by 2030.   

The A.I.M. legislation will accelerate the introduction of climate safe refrigerants of low global warming potential (GWP).  These include propane (R-290), isobutane (R-600a), and a class of non-flammable gases, named hydrofluoro-olefins (HFO). The HFO R-1234yf  (GWP=4) is acceptable by the EPA as a safe alternative for automobiles. Additional information on appliances using climate safe coolants can be found here  HFC-free Technologies – EIA Global (eia-global.org). U.S. chemical companies have already begun the massive investment in the new class of refrigerants which will dominate the market in the next decades.

In the last month of 2020 , California  passed an even  more ambitious HFC phase-down legislation than the A.I.M. bill, which will achieve  a 40% reduction in HFC emissions by 2030 California Phase-down of Refrigerants . 350NYC advocated to the Department of Environmental Conservation for the equivalent timeline in New York State but unfortunately the DEC did not adopt this goal but a lower target of 16% reduction when it issued new state regulations in September 2020 DEC NYCRR Part 494. We intend to renew our efforts at the state level to accelerate the phase-down time -line. One strategy for NY State is for us to advocate for stronger regulations with the Climate Action Council Advisory Panels that are in the early stages of scoping legislations to comply with the GHG emissions reduction mandated in the NYS Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

The phase-down of manufacture of potent HFCs is only half of the problem with refrigerants: gas leaks during the appliance life-time and loss during improper disposal at the end-of-life account for over 50% of emissions. The A.I.M. act gives the EPA authority for leak management regulations and disposal of HFCs used in industrial and commercial system, authority they had in rescinded 2015 EPA regulations.  A key part of enforcement of these refrigerant management is informing and monitoring commercial partners. Consumer pressure on supermarkets is gaining interest as an additional tactic to accelerate transition to non-HFC refrigerants Climate Friendly Supermarkets.

We also anticipate that since President-elect Biden’s Climate czar, John Kerry was one of the chief negotiators for the Kigali Amendment, that the US will ratify this agreement as well as re-enter the Paris Peace Accords in short order after January 20th. 

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March 9, 2020 – Testifying at the Department of Environmental Conservation Hearing on HFCs in New York state. Activists – Front: Jane Selden, Rachel Goodgal, Rachel Mackleff, Dorian Fulvio, Margaret Perkins (350NYC), Catherine Skopic (Sierra Club NYC). Rear: Monica Weiss, Leslie Stevens, Eva-Lee Baird, Evelyn Reilly (350NYC), Keith Voos (Drawdown NYC). Not shown: Eileen Leonard (350NYC) Poster credit: Jane Seldon.

Our urgency to  seek legislation on HFC phase-down was strongly influenced by its importance in Project Drawdown.

Margaret Perkins, Local Issues Lead Coordinator, January 7th 2021


 

HFC: The Potent Greenhouse Gas (Almost) Nobody Knows About

A Brief History

 

If I mention the term “greenhouse gas,” what comes to mind? Clouds of toxic vapor rising from power plants?  Car exhaust on highways?

Probably.

The air-conditioner in your bedroom window or

the refrigerator in your kitchen?

Probably not.

 

But inside these appliances lurks another greenhouse gas – invisible and odorless – that has a global warming impact one thousand to SIX THOUSAND times that of carbon dioxide[1] called Hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs.

 

HFCs are the refrigerant used in air conditioners, refrigerators, dehumidifiers and flame-resistant products. When refrigerators and air conditioners leak or if they are not safely disposed of, HFCs are released into the atmosphere.

 

As global temperatures rise, especially in developing countries, more refrigeration and air conditioning is needed. If HFC emissions are left unchecked, these emissions could make up 7-19% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

 

You may have heard of Freon, another class of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were the most commonly used refrigerants for many years. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that CFCs[2] were depleting the protective ozone layer, creating a large hole over Antarctica. To address this problem, 197 countries came together in 1987 and signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out the use of CFCs.

 

The ozone-destroying CFCs were replaced by HFCs. Although HFCs have a benign effect on the ozone layer, they are a highly potent greenhouse gas, and a major contributor to climate change[3]. In 2016 the Kigali Amendment was added to the Montreal Protocol, committing countries to phasing down of HFCs.

 

However, the US Federal Administration has refused to ratify the Kigali Amendment (as of 2020). This is despite the fact that the air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturing industries support it. Even worse, in 2017 the Administration reversed an Obama EPA[4] ruling that would have enforced a national phase-down of HFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners. Now, California, Washington, New Jersey and Vermont have passed their own state legislation to phase down HFCs, with several other states, including New York State, planning their own legislation.

  

[1] “The Benefits of Basing Policies on the 20 Year Global Warming

Potential of HFCs”:

http://conf.montreal-protocol.org/meeting/oewg/31oewg/ngo-publications/Observer%20Publications/Benefits%20of%20Basing%20Policies%20on%2020%20GWP%20of%20HFCs.pdf

[2] And their chemical cousins, HCFCs

[3] Surface Temperature Change by HFCs,

graph NRDC.org

[4] SNAP Program:  Significant New Alternatives Policy: an EPA program with the purpose of evaluating and listing substitutes for ozone-depleting substances

[5] https://insideclimatenews.org/news/08042020/us-appeals-court-dc-restores-limitations-super-polluting-hfcs.

 

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