In the News

Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter

Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A bicameral group of congressional Democrats yesterday asked U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to take a second look at her agency's plans to phase out industrial emissions of climate "super-pollutants" known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) spearheaded the letter, which was signed by 17 senators and 24 House members. The group said the phaseout plan EPA proposed on Christmas Eve last year would not draw down the production and import of HCFC-22 quickly enough and asked that the agency adopt a more aggressive strategy.

"We believe this is one of the most significant and immediate actions the Administration can take in the short-term to address global climate change," the Democrats said in their letter.

HCFC-22 is both heat-trapping and ozone-depleting, and it is used in refrigeration. The chemical is set to be phased down internationally under the Montreal Protocol. EPA's December proposal would allocate allowances for its production and use for the years 2015-19, but the Democratic signatories argued that it was too generous to deter companies from stockpiling the chemical for future use.

"We are concerned that EPA's preferred approach does not go far enough and would allow an additional 90 million pounds of virgin HCFC-22 to be manufactured or imported over the five-year period -- an amount far greater than what is needed to service aftermarket demand," the lawmakers wrote. Industry already has a stockpile of the chemical on hand, they argued, though EPA has not asked companies to disclose the size of their reserves.

"The agency's consumption allocation going forward should adequately account for the size of that stockpile," the members of Congress said.

By setting a faster schedule to phase down HCFC-22, they said, EPA can incentivize the development of alternative refrigerants and speed the shift away from heat-trapping chemicals.

Environmentalists say the administration has much to gain by limiting short-lived pollutants like HCFC and methane, which have strong climate-forcing properties but stay in the atmosphere relatively briefly. Limiting them can have an immediate impact on climate change, they note, affording the world more time to tackle the complex issue of carbon reduction.

The Murphy-Peters letter comes after Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced yesterday that the Energy Department would convene a series of round-table discussions with industry this year to weigh how to reduce methane emissions (E&ENews PM, Feb. 25).