A coalition of 11 Attorneys General filed suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for seeking to roll back key climate protection regulations adopted in 2015. Specifically, the coalition charges that EPA violated the federal Clean Air Act when it effectively rescinded regulations prohibiting the use of HFCs through guidance, rather than a public rulemaking process.

Lifting limits on the use of HFCs will damage efforts to combat climate change, noted the coalition. When it finalized its HFC rule in 2015, EPA estimated that the rule would avoid 26 to 31 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually by 2020. A reduction of 30 million metric tons is approximately equivalent to 6.4 million passenger vehicles driven for one year, or the annual energy use for 3.2 million homes.

Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required EPA to phase out chemicals such as CFCs, which destroy the earth’s ozone layer. In 2015, EPA finalized a rule that prohibited or limited the use of HFCs as replacements for ozone-depleting substances due to their potency as climate change pollutants. Two manufacturers of HFCs subsequently sued EPA over the 2015 rule, and the court ruled that the agency lacked authority to require a manufacturer that has already replaced an ozone-depleting substance with HFCs to switch to a safer alternative.

In April of this year, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a document, styled as guidance, which effectively rescinded the 2015 rule in its entirety. That guidance, issued without public notice and opportunity for comment, states that the agency is voiding the HFC limits adopted in the 2015 rule “in their entirety” — including those affirmed by the D.C. Circuit court.

Because of EPA’s new guidance, commercial refrigeration units are no longer prohibited from switching to HFCs. EPA has pledged to undertake a rulemaking to address the court’s decision but has not provided any timetable for doing so.

The states whose Attorneys General filed the lawsuit include California, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Publication date: 8/01/2018

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