EPA proposes to ban HFC-23, the most potent greenhouse gas among hydrofluorocarbons, by October 2022

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LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – A rule proposed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency would require chemical maker Chemours to follow through on a recent voluntary pledge to phase out emissions of a climate super pollutant from its Louisville chemical plant Works.

The company pledged in March to eliminate 99% or more of its emissions of hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23), a greenhouse gas thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide, from the plant. in end of 2022, after Inside Climate News inquired about the facility’s emissions.

The proposed rule, released earlier this month, would require Chemours to phase out 99.9% of its HFC-23 emissions by October 1, 2022, a deadline that could be extended up to a year if the company can show that it needs more time to correct.

Chemours released hundreds of tonnes of HFC-23 into the atmosphere from its Louisville plant, making it the nation’s largest pollutant emitter, according to information the company submitted to the EPA for 2019, the most recent year for which data are available. . HFC-23 is an unwanted by-product that is produced in the manufacture of hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC-22), a chemical ingredient in everything from Teflon to lubricants used on the International Space Station.

HFC-23 is not a local air pollutant, in that it does not cause immediate health risks or contribute to smog. From a climate perspective, however, the chemical is one of the most potent greenhouse gases that warm the planet. HFC-23 is 12,400 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change. The plant’s HFC-23 emissions are equal to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 671,000 automobiles, more than all cars and light trucks currently registered in Louisville.

Chemours first pledged to reduce HFC-23 emissions from its facilities at a White House rally in 2015, a pledge the company has yet to fulfill. The rule proposed by the EPA would now require Chemours to meet its recent pledge and to do so on a timeline consistent with the urgency within the Biden administration to tackle climate change quickly.

The Chemours plant is located in an industrial area of ​​Louisville known as Rubbertown, which has long been at the center of battles for environmental justice. Conservationists in the city were dismayed to learn that the only chemical plant was causing so much climate damage and lobbied Mayor Greg Fischer and the city’s air pollution control agency to the company is reducing its significant carbon footprint faster. calendar.

Environmentalists saw the plant’s emissions as a black eye for a city whose goal was to reduce city-wide carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, and another goal of be powered 100% by clean energy by 2040.

While the EPA’s proposed regulation only marginally speeds up the plant’s schedule for HFC-23 and could allow for a time extension, environmental engineer Sarah Lynn Cunningham, who is the executive director of Louisville Climate Action Network, described the EPA’s proposal as a good walk.

The real impact of the federal agency will be to make voluntary corporate engagement a mandate, she said. This is important, she said, given that “Chemours has failed once before to keep its promises”, referring to its precedent. commitment in 2015. The company withdrew those plans even after telling local authorities in 2018 that it was going to install new pollution control devices, according to a document obtained by Inside Climate News under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

Thomas Sueta, a spokesperson for Chemours, said the company is committed to reducing emissions from the Louisville plant.

“We continue to look for ways to accelerate our HFC-23 capture project to the extent possible in order to meet the final timeline set by the EPA and to continue to work with the EPA on the implementation of the final rule, ”he said.

The proposed rule for HFC-23 is part of a draft regulation that aims to gradually reduce the production and import of HFCs by 85 percent over the next 15 years. The rule is part of a global effort to reduce the use of HFCs through an international agreement known as the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which would prevent up to 0.5 ° C of global warming by 2100. HFCs, commonly used as refrigerants in refrigerators and Air conditioners are much more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide and can be easily replaced by other chemicals with a carbon footprint significantly reduced.

The regulation proposed by the EPA has been hailed as “The first significant stepThe agency took the lead from President Biden in curbing climate change.

Much of the rule proposed by the agency was predetermined after Congress passed legislation in December calling for an 85% phase-out of HFCs over the next 15 years. The legislation enjoyed industry backing as well as broad bipartisan support and was enacted by President Trump late last year, as part of a broader Covid-19 relief program.

The agency has been widely praised by conservationists for the speed with which it drafted the proposed rule and for its thoroughness in its quest to bring the most potent HFCs under control quickly.

“This was a very quick settlement proposal and given its speed it was even more exciting to see that they didn’t compromise on ambition,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Head of the climate campaign for the Environmental Investigation Agency, a Washington-based nonprofit.

The proposed rule notes that Congress has given the agency “significant discretion” over how to regulate HFCs and places particular emphasis on HFC-23.

“Congress was well aware of the potential impact of this substance and intended to regulate it on this basis,” says the proposed regulation, noting that HFC-23 is much more potent as a greenhouse gas than any other hydrofluorocarbon.

“Finally, we have seen the federal government recognize that this is a major problem and that it must be resolved through regulations,” Mahapatra said.

However, Mahapatra said the EIA continues to believe, as it has previously publicly requested, that Chemours should immediately cease production of HCFC-22 at its factories in Louisville until it can capture and destroy all of them. HFC-23 emissions.

The proposed regulations do not call for an immediate halt. But the EPA justified its regulation of HFC-23 emissions by noting that some facilities are already eliminating 99.9% or more of their emissions.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said the ability of some companies to reduce HFC-23 emissions means Chemours is not expected to get an extension beyond next October.

“Not capturing and destroying HFC-23 is the hallmark of an irresponsible operation, and we can no longer afford to be irresponsible with our climate,” Zaelke said.

Racheal Hamilton, a senior official with the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District, said she is still reviewing the EPA’s proposal and was not sure the city will send official comments to the federal agency. .

“Frankly, I was expecting (these) regulations to come out of this White House and this EPA and I’m so happy they are coming out so quickly,” Hamilton said. “This is exactly the kind of national strategy needed to manage greenhouse gases.”

National regulations like these will also help Louisville meet its overall climate goals, she added.

Cunningham, of the Louisville Climate Action Network, said the EPA must now go further and force Chemours to reduce its emissions of HCFC-22, which is both a climate pollutant and a destroyer of the protective ozone layer. Earth. The company recently announced unspecified voluntary reductions in these emissions “by the end of 2024”.

The production and use of HCFC-22 was banned in the United States and other developed countries on January 1, 2020, under the Montreal Protocol. Chemours is exempt from the ban because the HCFC-22 produced in Louisville is used as a raw material to make Teflon and other fluoropolymers that do not damage the ozone layer.



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