When the federal government approved an organized HFC refrigerant phasedown plan at the end of last year, stakeholders ranging from manufacturers to environmentalists issued a long-awaited sigh of relief. The unusual coalition’s victory yielded much-needed business certainty and/or environmental progress in the world of refrigerants and greenhouse emissions.

Now, a number of those stakeholders have reunited for an encore of sorts, petitioning the EPA with a new request: Faster, please.


California Catch-Up

AHRI joined the National Resource Defense Council and other manufacturing interests in spearheading this latest effort. In short, the petitions aim to present a united front to EPA, willing and able to meet a proposed earlier Jan. 1, 2025 deadline requiring GWPs no greater than 750 for newly manufactured stationary air conditioning equipment, and a Jan. 1, 2021 deadline for commercial refrigeration new equipment.

Regarding the stationary equipment proposal filed on March 29, AHRI states that “we believe the transition date is eminently reasonable, practical, and achievable. An earlier date may not be achievable, and a later date could perturb other aspects of AIM Act implementation.”

The petitioners did not pick this date randomly. The 2025 target reflects the timeframe pursued by the several states who acted on their own to set HFC phasedown schedules during the previous federal regulatory leadership gap in this area.

The AIM Act ended that silence, and its phasedown schedule set a minimum pace for all 50 states. However, it did not roll back the schedules of these more aggressive states. That left open the possibility of different deadlines and different equipment requirements in different states, representing a type of worst-case scenario for HVAC manufacturers.

Since the HFC phasedown possibilities in recent years have ranged from a national plan to a 50-state free-for-all, much of the manufacturing community had already started working to meet the fastest potential state mandates. In large part, California served as the bellwether for assertive scheduling, via the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The state’s clout on the matter was heightened by its 15% market share of stationary air conditioning purchases.

In essence, petitioning stakeholders are now saying that they can meet the California deadline and therefore the EPA should just green-light the 2025 target officially across the board.

Helen Walter-Terrinoni, AHRI’s VP of regulatory affairs, described the 2025 date as a sweet spot — it not only allows adequate time on the manufacturing side, but it gives state governments time to update code cycles and standards ahead of the mildly flammable refrigerants poised to replace HFC-based options in much new equipment.

Alex Ayers, HARDI director of government affairs, added that “Based on the status of the model codes, we expect them to be ready in time; however, adoption at the local level will take time.”

The AIM Act handles VRF equipment as a separate matter. The AHRI petition asks that the 750 GWP limit for new VRF equipment takes effect on Jan. 1, 2026.

From an environmental perspective, the AHRI petition states that these adjustments together would mean an additional half billion tons of carbon dioxide avoided on top of the AIM Act’s original projections.


Training and Ruling

Hand in hand with requesting the earlier deadlines for the specified equipment, these petitions also ask the EPA to forego the industry negotiation process allowed for in the law’s language. The stakeholders would prefer the EPA use, as the AIM Act allows its typical “comment and rulemaking” procedure instead.

Asked what HVAC manufacturers stand to gain from that route as opposed to the negotiated option, Walter-Terrinoni said, “Key industry thought-leaders would be tied up in a negotiated rulemaking for up to a year, and their time would be better spent preparing for the transition within their company, developing and delivering training, and addressing industry-wide issues such as transportation.”

Confirming an earlier rollout for A2L-based equipment might simplify life for manufacturers, but it would also narrow the advance window for preparing contractors and technicians to transport, install, and service that equipment safely and effectively.

HARDI’s Ayers said in HARDI communications that training is “starting to become available and will ramp up as brand-specific equipment is rolled out.”

At AHRI, Walter-Terrinoni cited several petition signatories representing a blend of contractors, unions, technicians, and distributors, along with their input on appropriate timing for this transition.

“Most organizations have told us that they need 18 months to two years notice to ensure that training is complete,” she said. Walter-Terrinoni pointed to resources like ESCO’s training program and an AHRI-hosted technician training webinar. She added that she expected new training from NATE in the fall as well.


Commercial Refrigeration

About a week after AHRI filed the petition for stationary air conditioning equipment, it filed the other petition regarding new refrigeration equipment.

Citing much of the same rationales regarding the several states that have already established deadlines based on (Significant New Alternatives Policy) SNAP 20 and SNAP 21 Rules, the petitioners would like to see a transition of Jan. 1, 2022, for every category of new refrigeration equipment except transport refrigeration. This would include standalone/self-contained refrigeration systems, remote refrigeration systems of any refrigerant charge, and industrial and processing refrigeration (without chillers).

Table 1

Product Category (New Equipment) AR4 GWP Limit Transition Date
Standalone/Self-contained Refrigeration Systems SNAP Rules 20/21 Prohibitions January 1, 2022
Remote Refrigeration Systems (> 50 lbs refrigerant charge) 1500 January 1, 2022
Remote Refrigeration Systems (<= 50 lbs refrigerant charge) 2200 January 1, 2022
Industrial and Processing Refrigeration (w/o chillers) 1500 January 1, 2022
ACIM (> 50 lbs refrigerant charge) 2200 January 1, 2022
Transport Refrigeration 2200 January 1 2023

Exceptions: ACIM < 50lbs charge, Medical, Scientific and Research Applications

COMING RIGHT UP: If AHRI’s commercial refrigeration petition is successful, several categories of new equipment will be subject to the AIM Act’s GWP limits as of the end of the year.

SNAP Rules 20 and 21 https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2015-07-20/pdf/2015-17066.pdf (PDF) and https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2016-12-01/pdf/2016-25167.pdf (PDF)

This petition acknowledges the need for a policy that covers systems that had all the components constructed but which were not yet field charged (and therefore not technically “manufactured”). The petition supports grandfathering clauses for this scenario, as earlier EPA allocation rules did previously.

Petitioners are also asking for distinctions regarding meaningful dates.

“A clarification must be made for the transition date of these regulations. Date of manufacture should be used for compliance purposes,” the petition states.

“In field-erected systems,” it continues, “the date of manufacture should coincide with the date on which the building permit request is submitted. Many jurisdictions vary in the length of time between permit requests and pulling of the actual permit. This will provide manufacturers with certainty around the permissible products for each application.”


Ruling On The Rulemaking

And what becomes of these petitions? The EPA is obligated to respond within six months of each petition’s filing.

“I expect that EPA will hold a workshop and meet with stakeholders individually to determine readiness for a 2025 transition,” said Walter-Terrinoni. Then, she said, the agency might either pursue a direct final rule or express its intent to follow the standard notice and comment rulemaking process.