A Few Republicans Threaten to Derail a Giant Senate Energy Bill Over Air Conditioner Emissions

America: where you can care about improving energy efficiency without wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions outright.
America: where you can care about improving energy efficiency without wanting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions outright.
Photo: Getty

The first major Senate energy package in over a decade may not survive because a few Republicans are trying to block regulations on hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas that can be found in air conditioners or refrigerators.

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Senators Lisa Murkowski, an Alaskan Republican, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, introduced the American Energy Innovation Act less than two weeks ago. The two parties spent a year negotiating and discussing the bipartisan bill to ensure that it could pass. Now, disagreement on an amendment that would phase out HFCs is putting a dent in the senators’ efforts. Lawmakers voted against closing debate on the package Monday night, leaving the bill in limbo.

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The package includes more than 50 measures to help reduce greenhouse emissions from the energy sector. This is important: Energy production is the second-largest source of emissions in the U.S. (after transportation). Improving energy efficiency, building out a skilled workforce, and increasing renewable energy can all help reduce emissions—and the act gets into these and more! There are also provisions that involve retrofitting schools and providing grants to universities to create training centers for energy workers. Phasing out HFCs seems like a no-brainer, as well.

Yet Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming has led Republican opposition to the bill over the HFC amendment. According to The Hill, his issue is that the bill doesn’t include language that would let states set standards stricter than the federal limits. The White House has also reached out to senators managing the bill to voice its opposition to this amendment, according to The Hill.

HFCs cover a number of greenhouse gases that have thousands of times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. And their concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasing, including some that were supposed to be phased out. That’s why the treaty to regulate them is so important to global efforts to cut climate change. And absent the U.S. signing on, it’s why the bill is valuable as well.

If the U.S. is going to take any kind of climate action, bills like these need to pass. And bills require bipartisan support if they’re going to pass the Senate, which this act has. Unfortunately, the White House ain’t down to regulate HFCs. When the Kigali Amendment, a worldwide treaty to regulate these chemicals, went into effect in January, the U.S. didn’t sign on. And now the White House may have enough allies in the Senate to either strip this amendment away or stop the bill entirely. This is the kind of behavior that prevents the U.S. from any progress. Sigh.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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Yet Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming has led Republican opposition to the bill over the HFC amendment.

Yet the dude’s representing a state in Zone A - Ya don’t need no refrigerants in Wyoming. That was a dumb joke. I believe Barrasso is out to kneecap a bigger picture here. 

Barrasso has kinda been stonewalling regulating greenhouse gases (all greenhouse gases) for a while now. This from Science Magazine back in 2011:

Was the Clean Air Act Intended to Cover CO2?

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/02/was-clean-air-act-intended-cover-co2

Yes, said five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007, when they ruled that greenhouse gases qualified under the Clean Air Act’s definition of a “pollutant.” Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of Congress’s intent in passing legislation, so politicians on both sides of the aisle figured that issue was settled. Unless, that is, Congress were to amend the Clean Air Act to rule out certain gases from regulation.

As expected, the new political tide on climate change has brought a raft of legislative proposals to do just that. A key pair: a finalized bill by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) and a “discussion draft” by the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-I) and Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK).