In its response to the AIM Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule in October 2021, which included a ban on non-refillable (also known as disposable or single use) refrigerant cylinders starting in 2025. Shortly thereafter, several industry associations and cylinder manufacturer Worthington Industries filed petitions, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn the ban. They noted that the ban would harm the HVACR industry, as the ubiquitous non-refillable refrigerant cylinders are cost-effective, lightweight, and recyclable.
Since then, EPA has not responded to the petitions, which is leaving the HVACR industry in limbo. This prompted House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman, James Comer (R-Kentucky), to send a letter to EPA, asking why the Agency has not acted on the petitions and demanding that they turn over documents related to the petition by March 1, 2023, as well as “provide a staff-level briefing on this matter as soon as possible.”
Strong Letter to Follow
In his letter, Comer raised concerns about the EPA’s final rule “banning non-refillable cylinders used to store and transport chemicals vital to HVAC and its impact on the supply chain and American jobs.” He noted that in “banning this particular cylinder in an effort to phasedown the production and consumption of HFCs, the EPA surpasses its jurisdictional authority, creates unnecessary industrial disruptions, and jeopardizes good-paying jobs.”
He went on to question whether EPA is ignoring stakeholder concerns related to the rule, citing as an example the petition filed by Worthington Industries, which included a proposal for a new prototype cylinder. According to Sonya Higginbotham, vice president of corporate communications at Worthington Industries, the cylinder prototype design outlined in the petition addresses EPA’s stated concerns.
“The design is an updated, fully recyclable cylinder that remains lightweight and contains features that will prevent intentional venting and fugitive emissions, provide unique, visually identifiable handle shapes, and can accommodate scannable QR codes or RFID chips to facilitate border customs agents and others from inspecting and detecting any counterfeits among the flow in commerce of legitimate cylinders,” she said.
Comer noted that since Worthington Industries filed the petition on November 10, 2021, “over 400 days have passed, and they have received no substantive response from the EPA, fostering uncertainty for the future of their employees and manufacturing facilities in Kentucky and Ohio. EPA’s nonresponse endangers jobs, decreases American business competitiveness, and increases reliance on foreign countries.”
Last Company Standing
Chairman, House Committee on Oversight and Accountability
Worthington is the last remaining domestic manufacturer of non-refillable steel cylinders used throughout the U.S., and Comer pointed out that EPA’s decision to ban these cylinders would make the U.S. exclusively reliant on foreign production capacity. In addition, Comer states that the replacement cylinder proposed by the EPA would cause numerous problems for the HVAC industry.
“The heavier weight and design of the refillable cylinder add risk regarding the safe use and transportation of HFCs and the safety of HVAC industry workers,” he said. “Non-refillable cylinders are also preferred in the HVAC industry because of their lower weight and lower costs. Moreover, the legislation behind the final rule, the AIM Act, was intended to assist phasing down HFCs, not the cylinder containing HFCs.”
The heavier refillable cylinders would definitely impact the safety of the thousands of technicians who will be forced to carry cylinders that are four times heavier, likely increasing injuries, said Higginbotham. In addition, moving to refillable cylinders would be expensive, requiring the HVACR industry to invest in a whole new fleet of refillable cylinders, which would impose an undue financial burden on small business.
“We are grateful for Chairman Comer’s efforts to hold the EPA accountable and deter what will be a significant disruption to the entire HVACR supply chain if this issue isn’t addressed,” said Higginbotham. “As the dominant domestic supplier, Worthington stands ready to work with the EPA on a viable solution that achieves the EPA’s environmental objectives, retains U.S. manufacturing jobs, and provides minimal disruption to the essential HVACR industry.”
Director of government affairs
Worthington is not the only one unhappy with EPA’s ban on non-refillable cylinders; industry groups including ACCA and HARDI also filed petitions, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn the ban on single-use cylinders. HARDI, for one, is happy to see the House use its oversight authority to push back on EPA, said Alex Ayers, director of government affairs at HARDI.
“The EPA continues to attempt to re-interpret the AIM Act with unlimited authority for the Agency,” said Ayers. “HARDI still believes the AIM Act was intended as a limited grant of authority and using the words ‘shall ensure’ out of context with the full legislative text to gain unlimited authority is an abuse of authority. Both HARDI and Worthington submitted petitions for reconsideration with concerns over the non-refillable cylinder ban and the electronic tracking system; however, the EPA has not responded to either petition, leading us to believe they won’t reconsider this action without action by the courts.”
ACCA’s director of government relations and advocacy, Chris Czarnecki, noted that ACCA has echoed many of Chairman Comer’s concerns since the EPA announced its ban of non-refillable cylinders for HFC refrigerants.
“Our primary concern since the introduction of the AIM Act, let alone its passage and EPA’s implementation, has been a safe transition for contractors and consumers,” said Czarneck. “Second, we support a transition that is orderly and does not cause unnecessary disruption to our members and the way they do business. I think that Chairman Comer’s letter and comments reflect both of those concerns. and we’re encouraged by the fact congressional leadership is taking notice of this important issue.”
Reason For The Ban
According to EPA, the cylinder ban is necessary to mitigate the problems experienced by the European Union (EU), which required that HFCs be sold in refillable containers as part of its HFC phasedown. As a result, non-refillable cylinders became a common feature of illegally imported HFCs — although some say that refillable cylinders are just as problematic — and the EU continues to battle a thriving black market in HFCs.
Another concern of EPA is that while refrigerants can be emitted from both non-refillable and refillable cylinders due to overfilling, valve defects, cylinder corrosion, human error, etc., non-refillable cylinders are typically discarded with about 1 pound of refrigerant still in the cylinder. This residual amount of refrigerant is called a heel and it is emitted over time as it leaks out or is expelled when the cylinder is crushed for disposal or metal recycling.
Critics say this is easy to prevent by simply recovering the refrigerant heel before recycling the cylinders, however EPA does not believe that occurs for “a number of reasons.”
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