An HFC specialist in nation’s icebox

National media tap expertise of Fraser’s Kirsten Taddonio

by Allen Best

For a day, Fraser’s Kirsten Taddonio’s expertise seemed to be everywhere.

On Monday, May 3, I saw her in a paragraph in the New York Times. The Environmental Protection Agency had announced a new rule that targets hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, a greenhouse gas widely used in residential and commercial refrigeration, air conditioning, and heat pumps.

“This is incredibly significant,” she told the New York Times, the first expert cited in the newspaper’s story. “By taking fast action on these short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are the most potent, we can buy ourselves some time and actually help avoid climate tipping points.”

Kirsten Taddonio

Wondering how the New York Times had found her in Fraser, I wrote to her. She subscribes to Big Pivots—and, by the way, is secretary of the Mountain Parks Electric Board of Directors, the electrical cooperative serving Middle and North Parks (Grand and Jackson counties).

She pointed me to a PBS segment that was broadcast that same day and further confided she had been interviewed roughly a dozen times.

“We have all heard about carbon dioxide, or CO2, and we know that it is responsible for much of the world’s warming,” she told PBS in a segment posted May 3.

“However, there are these other classes of climate pollutants called short-lived climate pollutants, of which HFCs are one of the most potent.

“So, if you go out today and emit a pound of CO2, that creates a certain amount of warming. If you go out and emit a pound of HFCs, it is thousands of times as potent as CO2 at warming the globe. So that’s why it’s so important to be phasing these chemicals down.”

The EPA—where Taddonio had once worked when living in Washington DC., along with a stint at the Department of Energy—had alerted major news outlets on the Sunday prior to its impending announcement.

Taddonio works remotely as the senior climate and energy advisor at the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, which has headquarters in Washington D.C. and in Paris.

The institute, she told me, “is known as the go-to source on HFC and non-CO2 climate pollutant issues. Our president, Durwood Zaelke, is quoted in tier-1 media all the time.”

Despite her connections in Washington, the announcement caught Taddonio off guard.

“I had no advance warning and zero time to prepare,” she said. “The flurry started Sunday when EPA gave journalists an embargoed copy of the press release on their rulemaking, and I had to talk to about a dozen outlets Sunday-Monday.  We did the PBS News recording in one take, which Joe (Smyth, her husband) tells me is pretty impressive given my general lack of TV experience before, so I’m pleased with that.”

She had shared her expertise earlier this year in a webinar organized by 350.Colorado.

This is from the May 12, 2021, issue of Big Pivots, an e-journal. To sign up, go to BigPivots.com

The NY Times and PBS segments were of the same length, covered the same major points, the PBS with an easier format through the filter of just Taddonio’s expertise while the Times had the voice of 6 experts and added more complexity.

You can see the New York Times story here, and the PBS transcript here. And you can see her fuller bio at the Mountain Parks website.

Colorado was not mentioned in the reports, but Taddonio tells Big Pivots that Colorado was at the forefront by limiting HFCs allowed in new products, along with several other states (see full list at HFCbans.com).

Colorado also joined the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and the Natural Resources Defense Council in petitioning the federal government to make HFC limits on new products apply nationwide.

“The brilliance of what EPA is doing now —with instructions from Congress—is that they’re going after HFCs at the source, focusing on capping production and imports. They’re turning down the tap, so to speak,” she says.

“Too often environmental policies only focus downstream, on emissions. That can quickly become an enforcement nightmare when you have so many distributed sources. Going upstream is smart.”

Until I sat down to write this, the irony had not dawned on me that one of the nation’s experts on the substance used in refrigerants, including air conditioning, lives in a place that may well still have none. At least when I lived there 40 years ago, the idea of an air conditioner in Fraser would have seemed preposterous. Maybe it still does.

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Allen Best