Industry Seeks to Ease HFC Regs
June 2, 2008
WASHINGTON - The HVACR industry is on the offensive to keep HFCs in the pipeline as political pressure increases to include such refrigerants in a basket of global warming gases and subject them to extensive regulation and potential phaseout.
Currently high on the industry radar screen is the Lieberman-Warner America’s Climate Security Act, a bill currently being drafted that could hit the floor of the United States Senate this month. It includes cap and trade regulations, production rights allocations, and production caps, and in its current form, has HFCs in its cross hairs.
That aspect was a high priority topic at the annual Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) Mid-Year Business Conference in the nation’s capital. It was preceded by a day of Congressional visits in which HARDI members joined with peers in the American Supply Association (ASA), Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), and Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association (PHCC) in visiting with elected officials and their staffs to make them aware of issues of importance to the industry.
THE FUTURE OF HFCs“You could not find a worse time to (try to) regulate HFCs,” said Talbot Gee, HARDI vice president. “We are in the midst of a major transition from HCFCs as well as intense pressure to drive higher efficiency.” He said today’s HFCs have been able to successfully address both those concerns “but there is no guarantee that unknown future substitute refrigerants will be as efficient.”
During a meeting of the HARDI Refrigeration Council, it was reported that the industry supports efforts to have legislation writers pull HFCs from the greenhouse basket and be treated as a separate topic. But there was little agreement on what a program to reduce HFC production would look like.
In general, those involved in the discussions during the meeting agreed that HFCs would eventually face production phase-downs. But they are hoping that legislators would factor in the current phaseout of HCFCs, consider the lack of alternatives to today’s HFCs, and the high efficiency ability of HFCs.
Additionally, it is hoped the industry will be allowed to make what was described as a “more seamless” transition to any future alternatives, and allow for a long life span of HFCs in light of so much new a/c equipment just now coming on line using HFC-410A.
The Lieberman-Warner bill (sponsored by Sens. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and John Warner of Virginia) would need to have a corresponding bill drafted in the House of Representatives and a compromised document drafted that would then be sent to the president for a signature or veto. Several of those attending the Refrigeration Council meeting speculated that such a document would not reach the president’s desk until the new administration in 2009 at the earliest. But they added that debates this year would shape any future bill’s language.
ON THE HILLIn all, more than 200 industry association members were on Capitol Hill meeting with the staffs of more than 100 senators and representatives, including many of the elected officials themselves. (See related Newsline story “Associations’ D.C. ‘Fly-In’ Rated a Success” in this issue.)
In many cases, the association members met with elected officials in whose home districts they live and have businesses. Beyond the refrigerant/environmental issue, association members also focused on a variety of matters affecting small businesses.
In addition, said Gee, “We identified ourselves as a resource for energy issues, for environmental matters, and for small business-related decisions. We want to be a first source, early source they can call on when deciding on what position to take.”
The combined effort of ACCA, ASA, HARDI, and PHCC was described in a HARDI statement as “the first coordinated lobby day of the four non-manufacturing trade associations in the HVACR supply chain.” Donald Frendberg, HARDI executive vice president and COO said, “I couldn’t be happier to see the industry’s distributors and contractors unite to engage our elected representatives at such a pivotal time in our industry’s legislative and regulatory history.”
THE R-22 ISSUEThe industry efforts to keep HFCs viable for contractors come as the pace quickens for the mandated phaseout of the production of virgin HCFC-22 in the United States and the reduction of any importation of the refrigerant.
In that regard, the Refrigeration Council invited the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Cindy Newberg and Julius Banks to provide an update and answer questions. Much of the comments focused on the phaseout (a topic which has been covered in detail in recent issues of The NEWS). Among newer developments were Newberg and Banks’ comments on issues related to attempts to illegally import R-22 and motivation for contractors to bring more R-22 in for reclamation.
As noted during the meetings, contractors and suppliers are voicing concern about the illegal importation of R-22 from countries that are allowed to keep virgin versions of that refrigerant in production longer than allowed in the United States, a factor they said could negatively affect motivation of contractors to convince their customers to switch to R-410A. Newberg said the EPA is working with custom officials and are already stopping shipments of R-22 and turning them back to the countries of origin.
A related question wondered about off-shore equipment pre-charged with R-22 coming into the United States at a time when equipment produced in this country will not be allowed to be pre-charged with R-22 as of 2010. Newberg said the EPA is attempting to address that issue in order to “level the playing field in that regard.”
Banks said there are pending regulations to tighten leak rates for CFC and HCFC refrigerants, an issue most directly affecting the refrigeration sector. For example, the current regulations allow for a 35 percent leak rate in supermarket refrigeration systems.
That percentage is expected to be considerably less, although Banks would not give that figure, pending formal announcement. He did say those who continue to use CFCs and HCFCs would face “tighter reporting and recordkeeping” because of the ozone-depleting nature of the gases.
He also said the recordkeeping “will motivate contractors to bring it [ODP refrigerant] back for reclamation.” An additional motivation, he said, will be market-driven, a reference to the rising costs and tighter supplies of R-22.
He said the EPA is seeking to develop a reclamation site map in conjunction with the industry. “This is for a technician that asks, ‘Who in my area will pick up a 30-pounder [cylinder] and not make it hard for me?’”
Publication date: 06/02/2008