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In the green economy, waging war on NF3

So you’ve just installed solar panels on your roof and you’ve stepped inside your house to turn on your Energy Star-certified LCD television, satisfied that you’ve helped reduce your impact on global warming.

Not so fast.

It turns out that a gas, nitrogen trifuoride, or NF3, used in the process of manufacturing solar panels, televisions and even the microchips inside these devices, has a global warming potential 17,000 times worse than the notorious warming agent carbon dioxide.  Compounding the damage, once released into the atmosphere, NF3 floats around for 550 years.

Fear not, you do not need to give up your techno toys and live in a cave if you want to ensure you’re doing everything possible to ‘go green’ and reduce your impact on the environment.  When properly used by industry, NF3 is almost completely destroyed in the manufacturing process.  This being said, not all companies that use this gas do so in the most efficient manner possible.  Some of the gas is released into the atmosphere.  As NF3 lingers in the air for more than half a millennium, these small releases accumulate, compounding the overall effect.

Just last year, a study by the Scripps Oceanographic Institute at the University of California, San Diego revealed that there is much more NF3 in the air than had previously been believed and the amount of this gas in the air is increasing rapidly each day.  Given that the gas is used to build our technological future, we can only expect that its use will continue to increase.

Fortunately, our eco-conscious Golden State has tools to assist you in your desire to achieve an eco-conscious and technology forward lifestyle.  In 2006, California passed the landmark legislation Assembly Bill 32, also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act.  This bill gave the California Air Resources Board the authority to regulate the greenhouse gases identified in the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental agreement negotiated in the 1990s.  The implementation of AB 32 is underway.

NF3, however, was not one of the gases identified by the Kyoto Protocol as its use in the 1990s was limited.  Additionally, the damaging effects of the gas were not fully understood until last year. Consequently, the air board is not required to regulate NF3.
Earlier this year, I introduced a bill to remedy this situation.  Senate Bill 104 would add NF3 to the list of gases the air board is required to regulate.  This does not mean the bill would ban NF3. It simply means that the state would be able to regulate its use so that industry is using it as wisely as possible to ensure little of it escapes into the atmosphere.  In addition, the bill would also add a provision to allow additional gases to be added to the list in the future if they are determined to be damaging.  This way, when the next damaging greenhouse gas is discovered, a process to deal with it will already be in place.

This makes so much sense that even the author of AB 32, Sen. Fran Pavley, signed on as a co-author of SB 104, which has been approved by the Senate and on July 6 sailed through its first lower-house policy hearing, the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.  An Assembly floor vote has not yet been set.

Please join me in urging adoption of SB 104.  You may then return to your regularly scheduled programming.


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