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American eye: climate change proposals

ASHRAE journal editor Fred Turner reviews what’s on the table for the US government to honour its recent embrace of environmental policies

With most HCFC refrigerants well into phase-down, attention is turning into what was once unthinkable: a possible transition from HFCs, the primary HCFC replacement.

The Energy and Commerce Committee in the US House of Representatives began hearings in late April on a discussion draft of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (summary document attached, right).

This broad climate-change and energy proposal would add HFC refrigerants to the greenhouse gases regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It also could direct the EPA to begin a phase-down of HFC production.

Such action was not possible during the Bush Administration. In fact, 2008 legislation that would have required an HFC phase-down over 18 years did not get a Senate vote because of a threatened veto by President George Bush.

The first versions of this year’s bill include an HFC phase-down, but such action is not assured - even though it is supported by President Barack Obama and Congressional leadership.

There is considerable opposition in the ranks to any action that can be deemed to have a negative impact upon the economy. Opponents also question the safety of some HFC alternatives.

There also has been opposition to a market-based provision for “tradable allowances.” However, tradable allowances in this legislation appear to be limited to entities that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of CO2 equivalent. This would mainly include utilities, oil companies and large industrial sources, a group which collectively produces 85 per cent of all US global warming emissions.

One possible outcome is HFC regulations that allow a low level of atmospheric releases, as has been done with HCFCs. This would be coupled with market-based incentives for low-pressure technologies. Government-funded research on hydrocarbons and other refrigerants might be included to help mollify the growing concern in the US over climate change.

The 900-plus-page legislation also authorises funding for retrofitting existing commercial and residential buildings to improve energy efficiency. And it directs the EPA to develop procedures for rating building energy efficiency. Such labeling would be required as a condition for a mortgage.

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