The Senate could ratify a major climate deal by the end of the week. And it’s being pushed across the finish line by conservative Republicans and industry.
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol has long been a prominent topic in US climate policy. An unusual set of business and political realities has allowed the 2016 deal – which sets a timeline for reducing global climate superpollutants used for cooling – to garner strong bipartisan support.
That could lead to a vote as early as Wednesday to accept the amendment, which has been ratified by 137 countries. Scientists say it could help the world avoid half a degree Celsius of global warming, an important step towards meeting international climate goals.
The remarkable convergence of conservatives and progressives around Kigali follows years of unyielding partisanship on climate policy that has scuttled almost every major legislative effort to reduce carbon emissions in the United States. The treaty’s bipartisanship contrasts with the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate spending law ever passed by Congress. She found zero Republican support in the Senate this summer.
The Senate on Tuesday voted 64-30 on a procedural motion that will determine the final vote on Kigali. Although many Senate Republicans voted no out of skepticism about an international climate deal, the appeal indicated enough support for ratification.
The constitution requires the support of two-thirds of the senators present. And industry officials who led public relations on Capitol Hill say they believe some of the senators supporting Kigali were absent Tuesday. Of the six missing senators, four are expected to vote for Kigali, a Senate aide said (E&E News PM20 Sept).
US industry strongly supports US ratification of Kigali, offering an influential – and rare – business ally for an important climate action.
“They’re activated,” said the Senate assistant.
Trade associations that have campaigned heavily for ratification include the refrigeration and refrigeration industry, the American Chemistry Council, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the US Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber and NAM each drafted letters asking the Senate to ratify the agreement. The chamber warned Monday that it intends to count the vote on its legislative scorecard alongside more traditional industry priorities, such as free trade deals, tax policy and nominations by judges and executive branch officials deemed pro-business.
Meanwhile, individual companies have spent years cultivating support for their home state senators — many of whom are Republicans — to urge them to support both Kigali and the enabling legislation that approved Congress 2020 with bipartisan support.
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana was the lead Republican on the 2020 bill, which passed as part of bipartisan energy legislation and will allow the US to meet the Kigali goals. In a comment in the Washington Times along with Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) earlier this year hailed the economic benefits of the contract.
“This production surge will also be good for Louisiana, where plants in Geismar, Baton Rouge and St. Gabriel could create more jobs and save hundreds of existing jobs by switching to safe refrigerant production,” they wrote.
US manufacturers say they have a lot to lose if Kigali is not ratified. US companies have developed products and hold patents that are used worldwide to replace fluorocarbons.
These HFCs, which can be thousands of times warmer than carbon dioxide, are already being phased out in the US under the 2020 law. But failure to formally adopt the treaty would leave US companies facing export hurdles from 2033 onwards.
As industry groups eye up a potential win, they say Kigali offers a blueprint for bipartisan action on other climate issues.
“You can achieve significant environmental goals and significant economic goals at the same time,” said Kevin Fay, executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, an industry group.
“But it’s important to have a process that aims to do that,” he added.
“Business likes predictability,” said Francis Dietz, vice president of public affairs for the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. “They know that in life they will not get everything they want. But if you can find regulation that works for you, then you’ll adopt that kind of wild west approach where different countries have different rules, and even in the US, different states have different rules. … This is a recipe for disaster.”
The text of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020, which gave the EPA new powers to regulate HFCs in line with Kigali, modeled itself on previous regulations for other chemicals covered by the Montreal Protocol — a decades-old ozone treaty that adheres to the industry was accustomed with. Industry has helped shape the text of the agreement and national law, both of which target an 85 percent phase-out of chemicals by 2036.
That long timeframe could be key to future climate legislation that could win industry support as well, Fay said.
Marty Durbin, president of the chamber’s Global Energy Institute, said the Energy Bill of 2020 is a better example of how to make climate policy than even the Kigali vote.
“The secret sauce in all of this was that you had bipartisan support for every part of this package that got through, particularly in the Senate. And you had the industry working for it,” he said. “I look back at the AIM Act and the Energy Act and there is your example of what it takes to make progress on climate change.”
The HFC policy is a unique “Kumbaya” moment between industry and environmental groups, which have often been at odds over climate policy, including the pace at which emissions should be reduced.
The road to Kigali began under the administration of George W. Bush. When Kigali was mediated in the Rwandan capital in 2016, an established group of environmental and industry representatives had already been working on the issue for a decade.
Environmentalists have stayed out of the spotlight ahead of this week’s vote, preferring to let industry advocates wear the Kigali standard. Several refused to comment on this story.
HFC reduction is unique in the pantheon of climate issues because it does not involve fossil fuels. It also offers virtually no downside for US companies.
Kigali membership would help the US keep illicit HFCs from China out of the US market – a point Carper and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) made in their post-vote speeches emphasized on Tuesday.
Paul Bledsoe, a strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute, said there are similar overlaps for climate and the economy on other issues.
“There could be very similar opportunities in the United States, for example in exporting liquefied natural gas, if the US can reduce methane emissions to the lowest in the world,” he said. “Our LNG exports may have a competitive advantage over those from other countries, particularly Russia, for climate reasons.”
This story also appears in E&E daily.