Rabe salutes rare bipartisan climate cooperation, though less optimistic about future deals 

August 3, 2021

As part of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act), the $900 billion pandemic relief bill passed in December 2020, a rare bipartisan initiative to reduce greenhouse gasses was included. It created a significant phase down hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) use. Ford professor Barry Rabe writes in the Brookings FixGov blog, When climate policy works: HFCs and the case of short-lived climate pollutants, that the move may not offer a template for other greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and black carbon.

HFCs have ozone-protecting features, but also act as a “short-lived climate pollutant,” which can have particularly intensive effects during decades immediately following their release into the atmosphere.

The AIM Act outlines a transition for an 85% phase-down of both HFC production and consumption by the mid-2030s and replacement with alternatives. 

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has seized upon this rare arrival of new environmental legislation with prompt issuance of a proposed rule, including exceptions for such items as inhalers, bear spray, and aviation fire suppressants that were politically or technically sensitive. It is also exploring related steps, including plans for accelerated transition if rapid technological advancement occurs and complementary strategies such as inspecting for leaks and reclaiming old appliances. In short, the system worked in this case, placing the United States on a path to address this slice of the climate challenge,” he writes. 

Yes, the bipartisan harmony “shows no sign of translating into a comprehensive model for other greenhouse gases in the 117th Congress.” he says.

He outlines three key factors that advanced the legislative package, potentially offering lessons for other climate policy options. 

First, the emergence of technically and economically viable alternatives to HFCs made rapid transition both feasible and politically appealing. Second, states retained considerable latitude to address HFCs and dramatically expanded related policies during the three years before Congress acted. The U.S. Climate Alliance had emerged in 2017, offering states a rallying ground to counter President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate. Third, the state push of the federal government was complemented by an international pull as implementation of the Kigali Amendment, which raised the specter of ever-declining global HFC use alongside steady decline of future American export options for HFC-laden products. 

He writes that the AIM Act joins 2016 chemical safety legislation in providing contemporary examples on how Congress can engage environmental issues with reasonably broad support across parties, regions, and chambers. While American methane politics is evolving, albeit at a considerably slower pace than HFCs, evidence from initial months of the current Congress, however, suggests that the AIM Act remains an anomaly rather than a model. 

He concludes, “As the United States joins other nations in preparing for an all-important global climate summit this November in Glasgow, its HFC experience may be celebrated as a rare triumph. As Hawaii Democratic Senator Brian Schatz said immediately following AIM Act passage: ‘This agreement proves what we know to be true: climate action is good for businesses and innovation. We still have a lot of work to do, but hopefully this sets the stage for the bigger, bolder policies we’ll need to address this planetary crisis.’”

You can read the entire piece on the Brookings FixGov blog.