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EPA announces strong limits on potent greenhouse gases

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency will take its first major step in tackling climate change on Monday, a spokesperson for the agency confirmed, moving to significantly reduce chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning which are thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide to warm the planet. .

The proposed regulations aim to reduce the production and import of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years. It’s a goal shared by environmental groups and the business community, which jointly championed bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in December to tackle the pollutant.

The speed with which the EPA is proposing the regulation underscores the level of attention the Biden administration is giving to climate change, said Francis Dietz, vice president of public affairs at the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, a occupational group.

“They move really fast,” he said. “Having said that, they are very serious about it.”

Communicating the gains it believes will be made by tackling climate change, the EPA estimated that the HFC rule will result in $ 283.9 billion in health and environmental benefits by the middle. of the century.

The effort is part of President Biden’s ambitious strategy to roughly halve the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. It also puts the United States in line with an international HFC reduction target, that the Biden administration has said it will honor as part of its efforts to revive U.S. leadership in the fight against climate change.

Like methane, HFCs have much more potent short-term warming effects than carbon dioxide, but they do not stay in the atmosphere for as long. Scientists have estimated that reducing these types of greenhouse gases can have a palpable impact, slowing the rate of global warming by 0.6 degrees Celsius by mid-century.

“This is extremely important,” said Kristen N. Taddonio, senior climate and energy advisor for the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a non-profit environmental group. “By acting quickly on these short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are the most potent, we can save ourselves time and actually help avoid climate tipping points.”

As part of a sweeping coronavirus relief bill, Congress last year approved language directing the EPA to cut back on HFCs. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who at the time was the leader of the Democratic minority, called “the biggest victory in the fight against climate change to pass this body in a decade.”

The EPA estimates that from 2022 to 2050, the rule will remove the equivalent of 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – or about three years of emissions from the U.S. electricity sector.

The agency said it had carried out an “environmental justice scan” which found that reductions in emissions from global warming “would benefit populations who may be particularly vulnerable to damage associated with climate change, such as the very young, the elderly, the poor, the disabled and indigenous people. . “

Echoing an economic theme Mr Biden repeatedly promoted when reviewing his climate plans, the EPA said U.S. manufacturers are at the forefront of developing alternatives to HFCs and that the new regulations would allow these companies to succeed at home and abroad.

Mr Dietz said he hopes the federal regulations will mean companies don’t face a patchwork of HFC bans that are currently being formulated in different states.

“It’s a big signal to states that the administration is taking this seriously and that the federal government is taking it seriously,” he said.

In the last days of the Obama administration, 197 countries, including the United States, signed an agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, agreeing to phase out HFCs. President Donald J. Trump never presented the agreement to the Senate for ratification. Mr Biden, who joined the United States in the Paris Agreement on climate change, pledged to send the Kigali amendment to the Senate for approval.

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