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Washington's War Against Your Air Conditioner

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Between now and when they face their final judgment, Barack Obama and John Kerry will never be forced to endure extreme heat -- because they will always be able to afford air conditioning.

If they follow the standard pattern, they are sure to get richer when they leave public office because they served in public office.

In a corollary pattern, people grow wealthy in and around Washington, D.C., by taking -- directly or indirectly -- the tax money other Americans must send to Washington, D.C.

That is why the latest Census Bureau data for median household incomes by county shows that five of the nation's eight richest counties are suburbs of Washington.

It gets hot in those suburbs in summer time, but the bureaucrats and politicians and contractors who live there have air conditioning in their homes -- even if they work for the Environmental Protection Agency.

But if Obama and Kerry have their way, you may not have it in yours someday.

Twenty-eight years ago, the Senate ratified and President Reagan signed a treaty called the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This treaty was designed to stop the use of chlorofluorocarbons, a coolant used in air conditioners and refrigerators that depleted the ozone layer.

The treaty worked. CFCs were replaced with hydrofluorocarbons, which do not deplete the ozone layer.

But then, as John Kerry explained in a speech in New York last month, the Obama administration targeted HFCs.

Kerry conceded that since ratification of the Montreal Protocol "nearly 100 of the most ozone-depleting substances have been completely phased out. As a result, the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and on its way to full repair."

"The bad news is that the substances banned by the Montreal Protocol have been replaced by substances that cause a different kind of danger," Kerry said. "HFCs may be safer for the ozone, but they are exceptionally potent drivers of climate change itself, often thousands of times more potent than, for example, carbon dioxide."

On Saturday, in Rwanda, the Obama administration and the other governments that are party to the Montreal Protocol agreed to an "amendment" to the protocol that, as a White House "fact sheet" puts it, is designed "to cut the production and consumption of HFCs by more than 80 percent over the next 30 years."

So, the Obama administration and its global partners amended a treaty aimed specifically at curbing the use of "substances that deplete the ozone layer" in order to specifically curb a substance that does not deplete the ozone layer.


They would risk making your house a hothouse to stop global warming.

The amendment, the White House claims, "could avoid up to 0.5 degrees C of warming by the end of the century."

It could also cause some people to avoid the future purchase of air conditioners -- because they cannot afford them.

"HFCs are used in numerous applications, including refrigeration and air conditioning," notes the White House fact sheet.

A New York Times editorial this week applauded the amendment, which imposes a faster deadline on the United States than on China or India.

"The richest countries, including the United States, will freeze production and consumption of HFCs by 2018," said the Times editorial, "much of the rest of the world, including China, Brazil, and all of Africa, will do the same by 2024; and a few nations, including India, will have until 2028.

"Several newer and less harmful refrigerants are available, although they may be more expensive in the short run," opined the Times.

A news story the Times ran last week, datelined Delhi, explained more fully why the amendment will make air conditioners more expensive. The story, which opened by describing an Indian family that had just managed to buy its first air conditioner, was headlined: "Accord May Push Air-Conditioning Out of India's Reach."

It quoted Stephen Yurek, president of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute.

''The replacements [for HFCs] are more flammable and toxic,'' Yurek told the Times. ''So there is a need to make sure the equipment is better designed and maintained, a need to make sure that when it is installed, it is done correctly and safely. You need better-trained people to do all that, and that will be more expensive.''

Obama's amendment to the Montreal Protocol is not just a change to a treaty that was ratified 28 years ago, it is a global tax on everyone who buys, or hopes to buy, an air conditioner.

The question now is whether the Republican-controlled Senate will let him impose this global tax on Americans or force him to submit it to the Senate for ratification -- where anything short of a two-thirds vote would defeat it.

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