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If President Trump doesn't agree to sign the latest coronavirus relief law, it could threaten the most significant climate change legislation in over a decade. The package includes tax credit extensions for wind and solar energy as well as more money for researching clean forms of energy. More importantly, however, NPR's Jeff Brady reports that the heat trapping gases currently used in refrigerators and air conditioners are being degraded.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: These gases are known as fluorocarbons or HFCs. They're great for air conditioners and refrigerators, but when they vent into the atmosphere they're an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas. They have more than 1000 times the heat storage capacity of carbon dioxide. Under the new contract, 85% of these HFCs would be phased out within 15 years.
Environmental associations supported the legislation. So does the AC and refrigeration industry. Samantha Slater of the Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute says her members see business opportunities in change.
SAMANTHA SLATER: We want to manufacture the new refrigerants here in the USA, that's right, and then export them all over the world.
BRADY: The legislation would comply with an international HFC phase-out agreement from the last days of the Obama administration. The US still hasn't ratified what has been known as the Kigali Amendment, but much of the rest of the world has. US companies therefore feared that foreign competitors would dominate their changing industries. Since they all meet the same requirements, these companies say they could compete better.
If you don't know a lot about refrigerants in your home, don't worry. Slater says you don't have to do anything.
SLATER: Nobody has to buy a new air conditioner. The air conditioning they have will work until the end of their useful life and there is refrigerant available that can be used by the contractors who come to your home to service these units.
BRADY: Same goes for your fridge. However, this would be a big deal for climate change. Air conditioning and cooling are growing particularly in developing countries. David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council says with the HFC refrigerants present …
DAVID DONIGER: By 2050 you would have seen around 70 billion tons of CO2 added to the atmosphere in the form of HFCs.
BRADY: That would have made climate change worse. The question now is whether the US will pass these laws and work with other countries to reduce the use of HFC refrigerants. Doniger says worldwide that this lowering will prevent global warming of about half a degree Celsius. Since the goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep warming below two degrees, this change is significant. Doniger says there's something else that made him optimistic about the bipartisan deal. Environmental groups and affected industries agree that this legislation is important.
DONIGER: It is proof that the climate problem is so real and serious that the underlying current in industry and in Congress is headed for solutions.
BRADY: The Republicans supported this HFC downsizing despite a Trump administration opposed to new climate policies. As President-elect Biden takes office next month with his ambitious climate plan, those involved hope that this will become a model for future efforts and signal to the rest of the world that the US will once again be serious about climate change.
Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.