Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in the 10/12 Industry Report on Feb. 9, 2021.  

Bipartisanship, like common sense, is rare in Washington, D.C. But every now and then, the stars align and both sides find common ground. At the end of last year, the president signed into law landmark legislation that lowers greenhouse emissions and defends American jobs all at once—and the solution came from Louisiana. Our state is home to tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

It is also ground zero for the hostile storms and coastal erosion that some link to a changing climate. Our jobs and our coasts took particularly hard licks in 2020, so it’s no surprise that Louisiana drew on our unique experience to give Washington a gift that protects both: the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act. Many reported that the AIM Act was historic, “arguably the most significant climate legislation to head to President Trump’s desk during his administration.” It shouldn’t shock anyone that Senate Republicans led the charge to protect jobs and the planet by getting the AIM Act over the finish line. Democrats in both chambers found their way to “yes” on this agreement after months of negotiations with GOP leaders. I know because I introduced the AIM Act and led those negotiations.

The AIM Act will not just reduce the impact of greenhouse gases, however. As a lifelong Louisianian, I introduced this legislation to protect Louisiana jobs. For some time, Louisiana workers have produced chemical compounds known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). These chemicals are coolants that make air conditioning, refrigeration, medical inhalers—and more—possible. Unfortunately, these outdated coolants can have a negative impact on the environment that is thousands of times worse than carbon dioxide’s. So, industries around the globe are phasing out HFCs in favor of next-generation coolants that hurt the environment less. The markets that adapt to producing refrigerants with smaller environmental footprints will not only survive once HFCs are obsolete, but they’ll also have a global competitive advantage. So will the markets that make the appliances that use these new coolants.

That’s a big deal for Louisiana, which currently has several plants that produce HFCs. Because of the AIM Act, plants in Geismar, Baton Rouge, and St. Gabriel have the chance to save hundreds of jobs and add new ones by transitioning to safer coolants over time. Honeywell’s Geismar plant has already opened a $300 million expansion to make more of the eco-friendly coolants, and the AIM Act protects such efforts from the heavy-handed regulation that states like California have tried to impose on the rest of the country. The AIM Act also supports downstream manufacturing jobs that depend on products that use coolants. Take, for example, the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) industry. The HVACR industry employs over 500,000 Americans and is worth tens of billions of dollars. However, the HVACR industry now relies on outdated HFCs, which are falling out of favor worldwide.

To solve this problem, the AIM Act will help American factories transition to making appliances and goods that use the new HFC coolants. These are exactly the kinds of goods developing countries could buy from the U.S. since the international HVACR market is expected to more than double over the next decade. Thanks to the AIM Act, Louisiana companies that produce, service, or sell HVACR equipment will not shut their doors. They now have the time and space to innovate in an emerging market, and that will enable America to export these new coolants and the products that depend on them. That’s why the AIM Act is expected to create 150,000 American jobs. Now more than ever, America must lead the global economy. In recent years, China has been accused of violating U.S. trade laws to flood our homes with HFCs that are older and more harmful than American-made chemicals. Communist China’s leadership is happy to profit by hurting American consumers and workers, but Louisiana is helping pave the way forward for our country even though 2020 was not easy on our state.

We’ve been battered by a historic hurricane season and economic hardships from the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, when it comes to coastal conservation and key production sectors, Louisiana may have more skin in the game than any other state. As a result, Louisiana has shown America that protecting the environment and supporting manufacturing jobs can go hand-in-hand. The AIM Act has become law just in time to empower Louisiana workers and our industries as we begin a new year.