State farmers could take hit on chemical ban

State farmers could take hit on chemical ban
The House has passed a bill that would gradually phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons, a move some lawmakers argue would adversely affect the state’s farming and agricultural industries. Photo: freepik.com

The state House has successfully passed ESSHB 1112 in a 55-39 vote to gradually phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons in products such as air conditioners and refrigeration units in an effort to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Proponents favor alternative chemicals that have less of an environmental impact, while opponents warned that the regulation could deliver another blow to farmers and grocers who rely on the products that use the gas.

“When you have an apple in March, April, May, June, July – you’re having something that was stored,” Rep. Chris Correy (R-14) told colleagues on the House floor prior to the Mar. 1 vote. “They’re not grown here year-round. They’re stored in a refrigerated environment. The cost is going to be passed on to the consumer.”

Originally created to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) banned by the Montreal Protocol negotiated by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, hydrofluorocarbons were the target of an effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requiring manufacturers to replace the gas with alternatives. However, a federal court ruling last year concluded that the agency has no authority to regulate it. In response, states such as California have passed their own laws prohibiting its use.

Sponsored by Environment & Energy Committee Chair Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34), ESSHB 1112 would prohibit the use of hydrofluorocarbons in products by specified dates. The legislation also directs the state Department of Enterprise Services to create a purchase and procurement process to ensure state equipment was not made using, nor uses, the gas.

At the same time, the State Building Code Council is directed to adopt new codes that allow the use of substitutes. The state Department of Ecology will have to submit a study on hydrofluorocarbon uses and report to the legislature by the end of 2020. An amendment sponsored by Fitzgibbon allows Ecology to adopt a new rule restricting the use of hydrofluorocarbons in light duty vehicles within a year of another state creating a similar rule, rather than requiring them to adopt them.

Prior to the House floor vote, Fitzgibbon told colleagues “our state has the opportunity to really lead the country and lead the world,” citing the success of the Montreal Protocol in eliminating the use of CFCs. “This is the next step in that journey. There are safer, cost-effective alternative to these chemicals.”

However, Rep. Mary Dye (R-9) warned that if the restrictions are imposed, “the people that produce your food supply – we’re the ones that are the most impacted. The machinery we use to grow the crops require some kind of a refrigerant to operate them. The question is, how much more burden do we want to put on the good people that are out there in the fields in the heat, working long hours, trying to do a good job in the free market, in the risk economy?

“There’s so many better ways to get from point a to point b than from this body…I’m sorry. It’s the technology and the innovation that happens in the free market that creates that. It’s not this body that is the ones that should be driving it down. We should be letting the technology and innovation come up.”

Correy also insisted that “the farmers and the people working in these environments…be part of this decision. We’re expanding rulemaking without including those who are most affected.”

One lawmaker to drop his support was Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-20), who had voted yes in committee but opposed the change in the bill regarding grandfathered equipment under certain conditions that would now stipulate they be retrofitted. “That makes a huge difference,” he said.

Rep. Matt Shea (R-4) told colleagues to “keep the government out of the way of our small businesses, don’t burden our small business, and let the market come up with these solutions. We should let American ingenuity determine how our environment gets cleaner.”

No further action is scheduled for the bill at this time.

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