White House, Industry Target Cuts in Use Of Refrigerants With High Warming Potential

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By Patrick Ambrosio

Sept. 16 — Emissions of hydrofluorocarbons would be cut by the equivalent of 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide through 2025 under a series of executive actions and voluntary private sector commitments announced Sept. 16 by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Industry associations and companies, including large retailers and manufacturers of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, have agreed to take steps to cut the use of hydrofluorocarbons and transition to more environmentally friendly alternatives.

The White House also announced a series of steps that will be taken by federal agencies, including federal research and development funding available through the Energy Department, that will help promote the phaseout of HFCs and adoption of alternatives.

Hydrofluorocarbons, commonly referred to as HFCs, have a global warming potential as much as 11,700 times greater than that of carbon dioxide. HFCs, which were developed as a replacement for ozone-depleting refrigerants, are commonly used in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

U.S. emissions of HFCs are projected to almost double by 2020 and triple by 2030 if no action is taken, according to the White House. The commitments announced by the White House are projected to result in greenhouse gas emissions reductions equivalent to removing almost 15 million cars from the road for 10 years, according to a fact sheet released by the CEQ.

Phasing out the use of HFCs is one of several strategies identified in President Obama's Climate Action Plan, which also includes federal standards on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and a plan to cut methane emissions from landfills and coal mining operations on federal lands.

Industry to Invest in Alternatives Research

The voluntary commitments announced by the White House include an announcement by the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), which represents the heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration industry, that its member companies have committed to investing a total of $5 billion over the next 10 years to develop and commercialize air conditioning and refrigerant technologies with low global warming potential and energy-efficient technologies.

Other voluntary industry commitments announced by the White House include:

• The Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, which represents domestic HFC producers and industries that use the refrigerants, committed to take action and support policies that would reduce the contribution of HFCs to global greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

• Coca-Cola set a goal of making 100 percent of its new refrigeration equipment purchases be HFC-free, while also increasing the energy efficiency of its refrigeration equipment.

• Honeywell International Inc. announced plans to transition the majority of its HFC production to production of refrigerants with low global warming potential.

• Kroger, the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. by revenue, announced it will join the Environmental Protection Agency's GreenChill program, an agency partnership with food retailers to reduce refrigerant emissions and decrease effects on the ozone layer and climate change.

• PepsiCo set a goal of making all of its future point of sale equipment, including fountain dispensers and vending machines, purchased in the U.S. HFC-free by 2020.


Commitments Aid Research, Development Efforts

Stephen Yurek, president and chief executive officer of the AHRI, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 16 that seeing commitments from large corporations to phase out use of HFCs aids research and development efforts because the refrigerant industry knows that there is interest in alternatives.

“It's always heartening to see first adopters,” Yurek said.

Yurek said that while the industry will need help in encouraging the refrigerant market in transferring to new technology, the announcement by the White House showed that the entire industry, from producers to end users, is committed to working together to cut HFC emissions.

The announcement of voluntary industry initiatives and further planned federal action adds to “gathering momentum” in support of an amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer that would phase out the international use of HFCs, according to White House adviser John Podesta.

Could Prompt Others' Action

“The leadership demonstrated today by U.S. industries and the federal government taking on HFCs is welcome news for the planet and will help prompt other countries and companies to take action on climate change,” Podesta said in a Sept. 16 blog post.

Canada, Mexico and the U.S. have proposed an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase out HFC production and use, but other countries are concerned about the funding needed to implement that strategy in developing countries.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, agreed that the White House HFC announcement will help generate support for the Montreal Protocol amendment. Zaelke has advocated for amending the Montreal Protocol to address HFC emissions.

The Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy announced that it supports the Montreal Protocol amendment to phase down production and use of HFCs.

Announcement Welcomed by Groups

Zaelke said that the announcement of voluntary industry commitments is important because U.S. action to address climate change “resonates around the world.”

Zaelke said that while President Obama isn't able to get Congress to act on climate change, he is “finding new tools” to address it, including working with industry.

“It's the way you'd like your government and your industry to rise to the occasion to solve a critical problem,” he said.

The White House announcement will illustrate that the transition away from HFCs is “well underway” in the U.S. and other large markets, according to David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air Program.

Doniger, in a Sept. 16 blog post, said industries that don't follow suit will miss a business opportunity associated with transitioning toward more environmentally friendly alternative substances.

“This train is leaving the station,” he said.

Whitehouse Applauds Action

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) released a statement hailing the voluntary industry commitments as an important step in reducing emissions that contribute to climate change. He highlighted Coca-Cola and PepsiCo as direct competitors that agree climate change must be addressed.

“That's the kind of message that can inspire even bigger steps to combat climate change in the future, and I thank the administration and all of the corporations taking part in this new initiative,” Whitehouse said.

The White House also highlighted a series of federal agency initiatives intended to promote the use of HFC alternatives, including actions by the EPA.

The EPA will continue to expand its list of acceptable climate-friendly alternatives in various industry uses, the White House said. The agency in June proposed to approve five new refrigerants that have significantly less global warming potential than HFCs.

The EPA is working on its next listing notice under its Significant New Alternatives Policy program, also known as the SNAP program, the White House said. The agency also plans to host a series of workshops on HFC alternatives.

DOE to Make New Funding Available

The White House also said the Energy Department will make new funding available for research and development into technology to reduce energy use, including funding to promote more efficient cooling systems and technologies that use alternative refrigerants.

President Obama also has instructed federal agencies to review federal acquisition regulations to promote the use of HFC alternatives by service and vendor contractors, according to the White House.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington at pambrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

A White House fact sheet, which includes a full list of industry commitments, is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/09/16/fact-sheet-obama-administration-partners-private-sector-new-commitments-.