Trump May Adopt an Obama-Era Climate Policy

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Believe it or not, the Trump administration is seriously considering entering into a global environmental treaty that was a key part of the Obama climate change agenda.

President Trump’s surprise election dramatically transformed the trajectory of one issue more than any other: climate change. Instantly gone was the presumed continuation of the Obama climate agenda under Hillary Clinton, replaced by the decisions of a man who called global warming a “hoax.” In response, the Washington-based climate lobby made a quick U-turn from working with the previous administration to scheming against the new one. But there is one curious exception — the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the United Nations treaty provision restricting many widely-used refrigerants on the grounds that they are greenhouse gases.

Kigali Amendment proponents, led by advantage-seeking manufacturers of costly substitute refrigerants, have tried to repackage this component of the Obama climate plan as something Trump should love and submit to the Senate for ratification. They claim it will add domestic manufacturing jobs and strengthen America’s global leadership in the air conditioning and refrigeration sectors.

But as could be expected of an attempt to pound an Obama climate policy peg into a MAGA-shaped hole, the truth has been a casualty. In reality, the Kigali Amendment would be bad news for consumers and the American economy. There is no good reason for President Trump to support it by sending it to the Senate for a vote.

The Kigali story begins decades ago when the once-feared ozone hole, not global warming, was the top environmental issue. Concerns that the refrigerants then in use were leaking into the air and contributing to erosion of the earth’s protective ozone layer led to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which banned many of them in favor of a new class of earth-friendly chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Today, HFCs are used in nearly every car air conditioner, refrigerator, as well as most home air conditioners and commercial air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

But over time, HFCs also ran afoul of environmentalists who have branded them greenhouse gases. At a 2016 United Nations meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, the parties to the Montreal Protocol agreed to add HFCs to the restricted list. President Obama strongly supported the Kigali Amendment, but left office before submitting it to the Senate for the required ratification vote.  Now agencies like EPA, Energy, State and Commerce are having high level discussions on a recommendation to send the current president.

Joining the environmental activists in support of ratification are opportunistic manufacturers of climate-friendly refrigerants and the equipment designed to use them. They are led by Honeywell, which has patented a suite of HFC substitute refrigerants that already sell for considerably more than the HFCs they would replace.

Using phrases that could have come from the president himself, pro-Kigali lobbyists emphasize that the amendment will hand American manufacturers dominance over their foreign-based competitors and thus create domestic jobs by boosting exports. Not likely.

The European Union has had Kigali-like provisions in place for several years, thus many companies there have a jump on their American counterparts in making the switch away from HFCs. Ditto Japan and other Asian countries. There is simply no inherent advantage in Kigali for American-based companies.

Worse, the domestic jobs pitch rings especially hollow coming from companies that have been aggressively outsourcing over the last two decades. Any homeowner looking to buy an American-made air conditioner had better do his research, as only some name brands still meet that description. Even units assembled in the U.S. frequently contain components sourced from abroad. And for refrigerant maker Honeywell, the “American jobs” hypocrisy is off the charts – it has produced more of its new Kigali-compliant refrigerants in China than the U.S.

Granted, these companies have every legal right to operate outside the U.S and import whatever they want, but when they try to sell the president on Kigali with promises of American job creation, it is fair game to point out their disingenuousness. For them, the Kigali Amendment isn’t about expanding exports of domestically-made products, it is about creating and exploiting a captive U.S. market for these costly alternatives.

Kigali won’t create American manufacturing jobs, but it will hurt American homeowners, car owners, and small business owners who will end up paying more for their air-conditioning and refrigeration.

Let’s hope the president recognizes that the Kigali Amendment won’t do a single thing to make America great again, but killing it would be a blow to special interests and their lobbyists and a nice step towards “Draining the Swamp.”