HVAC and EPA at Odds

January 22, 2009
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It sure seems like Dec. 31, 2009 is a long way off, especially with the ink just drying on recent New Year’s resolutions. Still, it will be here rather quickly, and with it the beginning of the somewhat ballyhooed change from HCFC to HFC refrigerants. If you spend most of your time bent over a split or small rooftop system, it means switching from R-22 to R410A for most new installations or perhaps opting for one of the drop-in refrigerants when it’s time to service an old system.

Up until recently, everyone thought the transition generally meant that newly manufactured units would cease using HCFCs at the end of this year and that a gradual phaseout would continue through the year 2030.

Unfortunately, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may have other ideas.

EPA met on January 7 with a host of HVACR industry associations and other interested parties to explain its recent move (December 23), which rocked the boat. It appears that EPA wanted to interpret “manufactured” as being synonymous with installation. In other words, the time that a unit is put into service denotes the manufacture of an installed system. Prior to the January 7 meeting, EPA had already begun to defend the language in the proposed rulemaking as simply a misinterpretation by industry watchdogs. A misinterpretation of the language? Charles McCrudden, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) watchdog, said, “Contractors need to be aware that the proposed rules will make it illegal to install air conditioning or refrigeration equipment that uses R-22 after Jan. 1, 2010. Under this proposal, any R-22 equipment in inventory will be worthless.” Not only did ACCA get in an uproar, but so did the Air-conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), and the Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) associations.

Perhaps as a result of pressure at the January 7 meeting, by January 16 the EPA stance had been adjusted to the following:

Sale and distribution would be allowed for self-contained, factory-charged appliances such as pre-charged window units, packaged terminal air conditioners (PTACs), and some commercial refrigeration units, if manufactured before Jan. 1, 2010.

Sale and distribution would also be allowed for pre-charged appliance components that are manufactured before Jan. 1, 2010 and used for the purpose of servicing existing (pre-2010) appliances. This means, according to the EPA, that components such as condensing units, line sets, and expansion valves that are charged with refrigerant and completely manufactured before Jan. 1, 2010, but not yet installed in an appliance, could be sold and distributed for this purpose.

A misinterpretation of the language? C’mon EPA. You knew what you were doing every step of the way. The next stage of the transition has not yet been codified, that which is scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2010 and conclude on Dec. 31, 2014. How ironic that the proposed rulemaking would include a ban on the sale of R-22 equipment after Jan. 1, 2010, the very first day of that five-year span? For now the EPA appears to have acquiesced to the needs of the industry. However, how much longer before another barrage of proposed rulemaking is going to upset the flow of this industry’s business again?



EPA CURVEBALLS

Here is a big problem with the EPA’s reckless disregard of this industry: 1. 

   1. The supply of virgin HCFC refrigerants is controlled by EPA. These crazy gyrations of proposed rulemaking could lower current production and consumption limits. EPA estimates that 20 percent of the R-22 needed for servicing existing equipment from 2010–2014 will come from recycled and reclaimed refrigerants, a figure that is way off the mark today. This overestimation may cause shortages and price spikes in the HVAC market.

A new director of the EPA will be coming into office along with the new administration. Let us hope that Obama’s choice, a lady from New Jersey, brings a big broom from the Garden State. The EPA needs a little cleaning, if you know what I mean.

Though I have occasionally chastised this industry for not being proactive in order to stave off regulatory pressures, the recent actions at EPA are completely unwarranted. The Montreal Protocol has already been accelerated in the United States. In the September 2007 Agreement by the Montreal Protocol, industry agreed to the more stringent production and consumption limits when they were adjusted from 65 percent to 75 percent of the baseline amounts.

This industry is preparing to handle the phaseout of HCFCs in a very responsible manner. However, a constant barrage of EPA rulemaking to expedite the phaseout between 2010 and 2030 will not serve the public well.

What’s next?

MURPHY’S LAW: Whatever can go wrong will.

Publication Date: 01/26/2009

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