The refrigeration industry may have a new folk hero on its hands. On April 1, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent a nine-page letter to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In it, Whitfield mapped out a number of “significant concerns” regarding the EPA’s proposed rule that seeks to restrict the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and to delist their use in certain applications.
Whitfield pointed out four specific areas of concern with the proposed rule:
• Compliance challenges, including unrealistic deadlines, potential conflicts with other regulations, and concerns with alternative refrigerants.
• Costs of the proposed rule.
• Environmental consequences of the proposed rule.
• Questions about legal authority.
Whitfield noted that the EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program was created to address ozone-depleting substances, and he does not favor expanding it to address substances with a high global warming potential (GWP) — especially since some of those substances had previously been approved under SNAP as alternatives to ozone-depleting substances.
EPA, to its credit, acknowledged Whitfield’s letter and said it is carefully considering all comments as it develops its final rule.
I truly believe that the EPA’s heart is in the right place. At its core, the agency’s mission is to protect our country’s air and water. Who doesn’t want that? We humans have seen the consequences of not being good custodians of the environment enough times to learn from it — the black fogs that used to envelop London in the late 1800s, our own country’s polluted rivers and lakes in the 1950s and 60s, and the ongoing extreme air pollution in China. No one wants to return to those days, or to invite China-esque pollution to our skies. We crave good health, and a clean environment is an important component of that. We entrusted the EPA to help us get and keep it.
However, as Whitfield points out, this proposed rule seems a little overly onerous, its timeframes rushed, and it may even be outside of the EPA’s legal authority. The HVAC industry has demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt to the changes sought and promulgated by the EPA, and, according to the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), the industry is committed to spending up to $5 billion over the next 10 years on research and development and capital expenditures related to low-GWP technologies.
So this is hardly a case of black hats vs. white hats. The EPA says it will listen to input as it develops its final rule. Let’s hope it listens to the input from the HVAC industry as not coming from a reluctant adversary, but a very talented and hard-working partner.