The Senate approved a bipartisan measure Wednesday ratifying a United Nations climate agreement dating back decades that reduces the use of a chemical found in household appliances.
Democrats and more than a dozen Republicans voted in favor of ratifying the so-called Kigali Amendment during a floor vote on Wednesday afternoon. The treaty was first introduced in 1987 under the United Nations' Montreal Protocol and has since been ratified by 138 international parties including the European Union.
The Kigali Amendment requires signers to reduce usage of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a chemical commonly found in refrigerators and air conditioners, by 85% by 2033. Environmentalists and lawmakers have pushed for HFC reductions, arguing that the chemical is a potent greenhouse gas which contributes to climate change.
However, experts have warned that ratifying the treaty would lead to higher consumer prices for appliances as manufacturers will be forced to replace products that have HFCs with next-generation technologies. The cost of repairing old equipment with HFCs will also increase as supplies become rarer, they said.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Sept. 28, 2021. Kennedy has been among the most vocal supporters of ratifying the Kigali Amendment. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP / AP Images)
"HFCs are the refrigerants needed to run your home air conditioner, your car air conditioner and your refrigerator," Ben Lieberman, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute specializing in environmental policy, told FOX Business in an interview. "Millions of pieces of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment that you might see in commercial properties or restaurant kitchen or a supermarket or a number of small businesses."
"If any of this equipment leaks and needs to have a recharge of refrigerant, that's going to cost more as supply dwindles and prices rise," he continued. "The new equipment will also be more expensive because it's designed to use one of these HFC-free, eco-friendly refrigerants which tend to cost more."
Lieberman noted that the federal government has already moved forward on regulations limiting HFC usage in appliances. He warned that an international treaty, though, would be harder to reverse than a federal regulation.
The bipartisan American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act, which Congress passed and former President Donald Trump signed in 2020, authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to implement an 85% phase down of HFCs over the next 15 years. The Biden administration unveiled a series of actions to curb HFCs last year.
A stock photo of a man setting up a new refrigerator. (iStock / iStock)
"We're dealing with a situation now where American consumers are being hit by inflation on goods such as food, fuel, products, appliances and then we're going to add on top of that a regulatory restriction that increases costs for all Americans related to something that is really important for people — especially in hot climates in southern states or in the southwest — which is air conditioning," Brett Schaefer, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital in an interview.
"It also deals with businesses such as convenience stores, grocery stores, and others who use a lot of air conditioning and cooling equipment in the course of their normal businesses," he added. "So, this potentially could add significant costs for Americans down the road."
He noted that the government should pursue HFC restrictions via domestic legislation to allow a reversal if consumer costs become too onerous.
In 2018, Schaefer co-authored a report highlighting how the Kigali Amendment would lead to higher costs. The report also stated that the Kigali Amendment is mainly supported by environmentalists who advocate for the elimination of all greenhouse gasses and business interests "who stand to profit from the phase-out of cheaper HFCs."
"It's a big moneymaker for them," Lieberman said. "It skews the market towards more expensive products."
The Biden administration unveiled a series of actions targeting HFCs last year. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci/Pool) (AP Newsroom)
The National Association of Manufacturers; the Chamber of Commerce; American Chemistry Council, Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI); and the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy are among the groups that have supported Kigali Amendment ratification.
"Our manufacturers are world leaders. We sell 75% of the equipment that is used in the rest of the world and our manufacturers sell over 95% here in the U.S.," a spokesperson with NHRI told Fox News Digital. "So, this is an area where we're already dominating and we're globally a leader and this just maintains that global competitiveness while, at the same time, still hold China's feet to the fire."
The spokesperson added that the U.S. would be hit with trade restrictions next decade if it didn't join the agreement.
President Biden delivers an address at the UN General Assembly.
Several Republicans who opposed the treaty Wednesday had criticized it for benefiting China. But an amendment filed by Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, ensuring China wasn't given extra time to comply with HFC reductions given its "developing nation" status was overwhelmingly approved in a 96-0 vote.
Other Republicans led by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., though, have pushed for ratification, saying it would strengthen American industry.
"Formalizing America’s support for the Kigali Amendment would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, boost U.S. exports, strengthen America’s manufacturing industry, and create more jobs for workers here at home," Kennedy and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., wrote in a Washington Times editorial in April. "What’s not to like about that?"