Opinions


Why the EPA Does What It Does

Top Administrator Talks Science of Regulations

September 30, 2013

No entity has stirred up more emotions in the HVACR industry than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was created in 1970 by executive order of President Richard Nixon and it came into our industry in the 1990s by its following of mandates to phaseout chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Most recently it has been involved in talks to phase down production of HFCs.

Along the way it was involved in development of regulations banning the venting of refrigerants, for requirements of Section 608 certification to handle refrigerants, and for fines associated with venting and certification violations.

The result: HVACR became a regulated industry.

But before we continue to launch attacks at the agency as an easy target, it might be good to step back and examine why the EPA does the things it does. To accomplish this, I replayed a July webcast from Harvard University of a talk given by Gina McCarthy, who at the time had just been appointed by President Barack Obama, and confirmed by Congress, as EPA administrator. Her talk came just about a month after the president had given a major environmental talk in which HFC refrigerants were a prime topic. (See the July 29, 2013 issue of The NEWS, or scan the QR code above, for a summary of that talk and its implications.)

There were several aspects of McCarthy’s talk that helps us understand better the mindset of the EPA.

For one, she said the EPA “follows the law.” By this, she was pointing out that the EPA implements what it is told to. The wave of regulations that came our way in the 1990s was tied in with the congressional mandate to clean up the environment in the context of the Clean Air Act. We can argue how that mandate should or should not have been implemented, but the EPA’s way was what resulted, in response to mandates, not because the agency had nothing else to do at the time.

She said, “Our climate is changing and we know the climate is changing,” adding, “We saw where the science was leading.” It was her contention that regulations addressing climate change ended up changing the way we do business. Such regulations were not intended to be disruptive or damaging to industries such as HVACR; they were made, she said, in response to scientific finding which revealed business could be accomplished in a different way. (Remember how we once thought there is no way we could work with those newfangled HFCs?)

As I said at the beginning, this is what the head honcho at the EPA was saying a short time ago. And I think it is important to understand that thought process, whether you agree with it or not.

Today, I still get phone calls, emails, and face-to-face comments from fellow old timers complaining about other environmental bad guys, and that the EPA should stop picking on HVACR. Yes, those old timers still claim there never was a hole in the ozone layer, and that swimming pool chlorine and farm animal methane gases create far more problems for our environment than refrigerants in contained leak-tight systems.

But, for the most part, the HVACR industry has been working with the EPA in terms of rational change that is plugged into the scientific side of the equation that McCarthy talked about, providing the research and documentation that guides the EPA’s next steps. And the industry has been an advocate for the value of certain refrigerants and technologies regarding sustainability and cost-effective efficiency issues.

So, while the EPA will probably remain a favorite target of many within our industry, it might be worthwhile to take some time to better understand at whom you’re aiming.

Publication date: 9/30/2013

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