Celebrating Ozone Layer Protection Milestones of the Clean Air Act
By Anne L. Austin
Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation
Ozone layer protection in the United States reaches an important milestone in 2020. For 30 years the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been helping to protect and heal the Earth’s stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting substances (ODS). This year marks the start of the final phaseout stage for certain ODS: hydrochlorofluorocarbons, otherwise known as HCFCs. To date, we have reduced production and import of ODS by over 99.5 percent. And, by the end of this decade, we will complete this historic phaseout.
I am proud that our country’s actions under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and global action under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) mean that the ozone layer is expected to recover to pre-1980 levels. With leadership from the Reagan Administration, the world agreed to the Montreal Protocol on September 16, 1987. This achievement was followed by the 1990 CAA Amendments that included provisions on Stratospheric Ozone Protection, which President George H. W. Bush signed into law. Over the past 30 years, the United States has made remarkable progress in phasing out production of ODS, reducing emissions of ODS, and transitioning to safer alternatives through the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program. Now more than ever, we are supporting a smooth and seamless transition for consumers and industry.
Under President Trump’s leadership, EPA has revised the SNAP regulations to increase the acceptable charge limit for certain refrigerants to provide more flexibility for equipment designs by industry, expanded the list of acceptable alternatives, and supported adoption into industry standards. At the same time, we issued regulations to ensure the final phaseout of HCFCs while allowing for the continued use for servicing a broader range of existing equipment.
This phaseout is largely due to American companies’ innovative approaches to solving a global problem, which is a key tenet fostered under the Trump Administration. U.S. industry has led the way, at every stage, by developing next generation technologies even while the use of air-conditioning and refrigeration has steadily grown. The EPA has joined with companies to further reduce harmful emissions by establishing two partnership programs: the Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) program and the GreenChill Advanced Refrigeration Partnership. The RAD program works with stakeholders to dispose of old refrigerated appliances using the best environmental practices, and GreenChill works with the supermarket industry to reduce refrigerant emissions. Both voluntary programs help to reduce emissions and build strong partnerships in our communities. In the last several years, RAD and GreenChill have gained new partners contributing to the continued success of the programs– demonstrating that what is good for the environment is good for business.
But why is ozone layer protection so important? Stratospheric ozone is our defense against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. When ODS are emitted to the atmosphere, they destroy ozone molecules and thin the ozone layer, allowing more UV radiation to reach the Earth’s surface. Overexposure to UV radiation can cause a range of serious health effects, from skin cancer and cataracts to suppression of our immune systems. UV radiation can also damage sensitive crops, which reduces crop yields, and harm marine phytoplankton with potentially profound effects on the food chain.
In a recently released report, the EPA estimates that the full implementation of the Montreal Protocol will prevent approximately 443 million cases of skin cancer and 63 million cases of cataracts in the United States alone. We can also take simple steps to reduce health risks by being smart and safe in the sun. Together with the National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA provides the UV Index, a daily UV forecast to help protect the public from overexposure to UV radiation. Anyone can download the free UV Index smartphone app in English or Spanish and quickly and easily access important information to help plan how to enjoy the outdoors safely.
You may not have known that ozone layer protection is part of our everyday life. I invite you to learn more by viewing the resources we developed for this milestone year. Visit our website for highlights on the many achievements made possible by ozone protection policies and explore Strat City, an interactive webpage where you can see how ozone layer protection affects the many aspects of our daily living.
About the author: Anne L. Austin is Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. Read more.
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