Landmark EPA ruling to phase down HFCs will deliver health and climate benefits for all, including Minnesotans

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Highly potent, heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a type of greenhouse gas most commonly used as refrigerants in home and industrial appliances, including refrigerated distributing trucks known to the freight industry as “reefers.” Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is moving to phase down production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Most commonly used as refrigerants in home and industrial appliances like air conditioning units and refrigerators, HFCs are highly potent, heat-trapping greenhouse gases known as “super pollutants” that do great damage when released into the atmosphere.

But there are alternatives to HFCs—alternatives that enjoy bipartisan congressional approval and that have secured the backing of the U.S. business community. Substitutions for these super polluters contribute significantly less to global warming—and not only are they cheaper, better for human health, and more environmentally-friendly than HFCs, but most are also USA-made. As a result, HFC regulation has enjoyed support from national and regional business leaders, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Manufacturers, and Minnesota-based companies who stand to benefit from the industry-wide jobs boost the regulation will provide, including Honeywell in Minneapolis, Trane in Saint Paul, Dow in St. Cloud, Daikin in Plymouth, and Lennox in Mendota Heights. 

The EPA estimates that the regulation will cut down on approximately 4.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide that would have been released into the air between 2022 and 2050—the equivalent of entirely cutting nearly three years of pollution from the U.S. power sector. What’s more, EPA projections also show that the regulation will result in an estimated savings of $284 billion dollars in damages from climate-related disasters and health impacts. 

The new rule was spurred by the former administration’s passage of bipartisan-backed coronavirus relief, which contained provisions for HFC regulation. It also follows the Biden-Harris Administration’s Leaders Summit on Climate pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels by 2030—a national commitment to the Paris Agreement requiring an urgent and coordinated response at the federal level. 

“The move to phase out HFCs is the most significant climate policy advanced since the American Clean Energy and Security Act was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2009,” said Fresh Energy’s science policy director J. Drake Hamilton. “With the HFC phase down, the U.S. will join the rest of the world in cutting greenhouse gases that will eliminate globally about 0.5 degrees Celsius in climate change, about one-third of the international goal of keeping warming to not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Without achieving HFC phase down, Minnesota also cannot continue its 2007 National Generation Energy Act commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 80 percent by 2050.” 

Fresh Energy has been working for decades to shape and drive bold policy solutions that propel Minnesota ever closer to achieving an equitable carbon-neutral economy. These state-level policy solutions become even more powerful when paired with strong federal climate action. This move by the EPA marks the concerted federal effort that is precisely the type of urgent, resolute ambition on climate called for by the scientific community—and it is one that will promote good health, a vibrant economy, and thriving communities in Minnesota and across the United States, for generations to come.