So just when we thought regulatory actions related to the environment were pretty mute, given not much traction in Washington mainly due to a sluggish economy, along comes, of all people, the president of the United States.

Barack Obama was barely into his second inaugural address when he said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” He did call it climate change instead of global warming, since the former is the more popular catch phrase, especially when temperatures are below average. When temps are above average, the buzz phrase goes back to global warming.

He even had a dig for those few who still doubt what used to be called global warming. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”

It has never been clear to me how much the HVACR industry contributes to “devastating impacts,” and certainly the president’s examples can’t seem to be directly blamed on HVACR.

Next came the plug for alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. “The path toward sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it.”

Here, the idea is that wind and solar will be taking us off the electric grid, which powers nearly all our HVACR needs. It is just that when there is no wind or no sun, the grid has to be relied on — and nobody has really come up with a cost-effective, energy-efficient option.

And speaking of money, the inaugural speech did not go into specific dollars and cents when it comes to addressing climate change and embracing new energy options. It was more like we can do it all. He said, “We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim
its promise.”

This is not a political column so I won’t comment on how the president intends for the United States to become a leader in taking on climate change and getting more interest in alternative energy sources and what it will cost. He did make a brief reference to dealing with the cost issue in the context of healthcare and the deficit. “We must make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit. But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.”

The point here is that he is trying to put climate change back on the front-burner/high-priority list during his last term in office. If climate change includes global warming issues, then many HFC refrigerants come back into the political/regulatory arena because of their perceived high GWP.

That issue never goes into the background in Europe. Even now, the European Commission, which does a lot of the regulatory legwork for the European Union, which is made up of 27 countries, is putting pressure on some sort of phase-down of HFC use in Europe, and, in cases where natural refrigerant options can be used, a phaseout of HFCs. There is still a way to go in Europe in terms of anything taking hold and manufacturer organizations over there are continuing to draw attention to the potentially higher total energy costs of using alternative refrigerants.

But should that effort in Europe gain some momentum, it is sure to cross over the Atlantic just as the phaseout of CFCs and then HCFCs started in Europe and then came to North America. The question then becomes, if that momentum does reach the U.S. within the next four years, how much will President Obama’s renewed attention on climate change in his speech move things forward?

Publication date: 2/25/2013