The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried a bit of muscle flexing as 2011 started and promptly ran into some roadblocks, while at the same time causing the HVACR industry to keep an even more watchful eye on what the EPA may do next.
The federal agency was given the OK by the Obama administration to act unilaterally to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And even though the initial GHG targets were limited - several hundred new or existing facilities undergoing upgrades - there was concern that such power could become more widespread. As far back as 2009, refrigerant manufacturers were among those included in what at the time was called a mandatory greenhouse gas reporting system. Concerns were raised over how to measure levels asked by the EPA, reporting information that may conflict with confidential business information, and what the EPA planned to do with the information collected.
In late 2010, there seemed to be a more conciliatory tone from the EPA in a statement that said the agency would “solicit comments from stakeholders seeking more specific information about claims of business sensitivity regarding inputs to emission equations and proposing to defer the deadline for reporting that data until March 2014.”
Then came the announcement shortly afterwards that the EPA would move unilaterally to curb GHG emissions, with new power plants and oil refineries first to be targeted.
“We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson.
Part of the equation was the announcement that the EPA intended to directly issue air permits for industries in Texas, citing the failure of the state to comply with GHG regulations.
Many observers saw this as a starting point in what would become a more widespread effort of unilateral action.
As happened, a federal appeals court on Dec. 30 temporarily blocked the EPA from taking such action in Texas until other courts could consider whether such a federal take over was legal. At the same time, Congress chimed in with discussions from both Republicans and some Democrats to pass legislation that would block the EPA from unilateral action.
THE HVACR FACTORRefrigerant manufacturers in the HVACR industry have generally stayed mum on the reporting issue because of the confidentially aspect. But others in the industry are beginning to offer their perspective on that and broader matters.
In general, the industry understands the concerns over GHG emissions and the need to control them. The desire is to find mutually agreeable and cost effective ways to address the issue.
David Stripe, executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, said unilateral action by the EPA may be difficult. “EPA has the power to do this (act unilaterally), but the reality of current and future lawsuits and protests from the Congress will keep the administration focused on going slowly on areas where they can get agreement and compromise.”
In the aspect of working together, Stirpe said, “EPA could address approval of alternatives that have low global warming potential under the Significant New Alternatives Program. Eventually, EPA could consider working on Section 609 of the Clean Air Act in addressing reduced emissions of HFCs from air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. It is already illegal to vent such HFCs in the service, maintenance, and disposal of such equipment, but EPA never extended the CFC and HCFC regulations to HFCs. These included the recovery, recycling, and reclaim of such refrigerants; or issues such as banning the sale of HFCs to only certified contractors.
“I think everyone, including EPA, is watching to see what Congress does in the next few weeks or months. It’s generally assumed that the votes are there in the Senate to pass a bill to halt the EPA rules. Similar legislation in the House is certain to pass.”
Charlie McCrudden, vice president for government affairs at the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), said, “In the short term, I think it’s doubtful that the EPA will obtain ‘unilateral’ power to take action regarding GHG emissions.”
He did note that, “In the meantime, EPA and the State Department have been working on a proposal to amend the Montreal Protocol to cover the production and use of HFCs. The agencies have held joint stakeholder meetings on this issue. The proposal is moving along and one of the benefits is that it isolates the refrigerant issue from the greater global warming and climate change debate on the Hill.”
POSSIBLE SENATE ACTIONBoth McCrudden and Stripe said a high profile item in Congress that needs to be watched by the HVACR industry involves legislation proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat from West Virginia.
On Jan. 21, McCrudden said, “In 2010, Sen. Rockefeller introduced legislation that would have delayed EPA’s ability to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide or methane. He is expected to introduce a new version of the legislation soon. Several House Republicans will introduce their own version of the bill, including Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). ACCA is monitoring the progress of these bills.”
Stripe elaborated on what he called “the reality of the Rockefeller Bill in the Senate. Sen. Rockefeller has made clear his intention to re-introduce his Stationary Source Regulations Delay Act in the new Congress. The bill, which would delay EPA greenhouse gas regulations for carbon dioxide and methane for two years (excluding the auto-emissions and reporting rules), had been promised a vote by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in the last Congress, but such a vote never materialized.
“It appears that the bill will again apply only to carbon dioxide and methane, and will not expand to HFCs. If the bill becomes more of a reality, Obama will have to decide how potential passage of the Rockefeller bill plays into the political circumstances at that time.
“ANational Journalanalysis has shown as many as 59 senators prepared to vote in favor of the Rockefeller bill, while another recent POLITICO analysis has determined a likely 56 votes for the bill with a further eight votes ‘in play.’ Democrats supporting EPA regulation of greenhouse gases have committed not to back down in the fight over a new bill.
“The bill remains as one of Rockefeller’s priorities for 2011, and represents his most favored course of action for addressing EPA greenhouse gas regulations.”