HOUSTON, TX — Drawing on solid experience and scientific data, Texas contractors persuaded the Texas National Resources Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to withdraw a proposal that would have required a coating on air conditioning condensers. According to Robert Elolf, president of Environmental Air Services, “This coating is supposed to change ground-level ozone to oxygen as the condenser fan draws it through the coil.”

TNRCC’s proposal would have applied not just to Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Beaumont/Port Arthur, and Dallas, but to the entire eastern part of Texas. Most of the industry’s eyebrows went up like mercury in August when the proposal was announced.

Produced by only one manufacturer, relatively untested and possibly hazardous, the product raised questions. Among them: 1. If it hasn’t been adequately tested, how do we know it will work?

2. If it does work, why did California reject its use in 1998?

3. Does the coating contain manganese dioxide, which can cause liver and kidney damage, among other health problems? And, if so, what happens when the coating flakes off into the air we breathe and water we drink?

Industry Gets Busy

Contractors as well as equipment manufacturers turned on the power to argue against this requirement.

Texas contractors, including members of ACCA-GH (Air Conditioning Contractors of America — Greater Houston), got busy making calls and writing letters, soliciting expert opinions and the help of local media. Hearings on the proposals drew members of the industry (including manufacturers Carrier, American Standard, Nordyne, and Goodman) and distributors and suppliers (including Johnson Supply and Aces).

Contractors turned out in big numbers, ready to speak at local hearings. “Every hearing in every town, we covered it,” recalls Sonny Ronconcio, president of Fresh Air, Inc. Among other points, contractors mentioned that:

  • Only one vendor provides the coating and would be the sole beneficiary if the proposal were implemented.
  • The cost to consumers might be as high as $1,000 per 3-ton central air conditioner.
  • If the price increase forced some consumers to repair old units instead of replacing them with new and more energy-efficient units, the demand for electricity would increase along with the pollution power plants create.
  • John B. Goodman, chairman of Goodman Manufacturing Co. L.P., a local manufacturer of hvac equipment, noted that his company had recommended an alternative clean air proposal at meetings around the state. The “Consumer’s Choice” proposal offers customers the option of investing in new, high-efficiency units.

    “Clearly we will never get a handle on the air quality problems in this state until we reduce the amount of fossil fuels being burned to generate power,” Goodman said. “This can be achieved by using less electricity.”

    David Collins, vice president of Aces Air Conditioning Supply, Inc., said, “That was a great proposal. Air conditioners don’t pollute. You’re not solving the problem because the coating would make the a/c work harder, requiring you to burn more fossil fuel.”

    Ari’s Expert Testimony

    Representatives of the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) brought expert testimony to the hearings. Prominent among these was Deborah Miller, the association’s vice president for government affairs.

    Miller pointed out that equipment produced by ARI’s manufacturer-members does not emit pollutants that cause ozone. By mandating this proposal, the TNRCC is unfairly asking the manufacturers to “clean up an ozone problem caused in large part by other pollutants.”

    Miller emphasized the impact on the cost of air conditioning equipment. She estimated that cost at as high as $1,200 for a 3-ton unit and $15,000 for a 50-ton chiller.

    She concluded, “We would rather see the commission focus on energy efficiency as they are doing. That is more important as a way of fighting ozone.”

    One of ARI’s witnesses, Dr. David Allen, an ozone expert, is a Beckman Professor in Chemical Engineering and director of the Center for Energy and Environ-mental Resources at the University of Texas. He concluded that the catalyst will have no or very little impact on improving air quality.

    Said Jay Warren, president of A.J. Warren Service Co., “I don’t think TNRCC was prepared for the onslaught we delivered here in Houston. We hammered them, and it worked.”

    Added Ronconcio, “When we came together as a unified industry, we saw the TNRCC listen. Everyone who participated should be congratulated because it was that team effort that made things happen.”

    When TNRCC announced it was withdrawing the proposal, contractors and others in the industry felt their big effort had been amply rewarded. The proposed regulation was withdrawn at the Dec. 9, 2000 agenda and was published in the Texas Register on Dec. 22, 2000 (25 TexReg 12637).

    Schulz is a freelance writer based in Richardson, TX.

    Publication date: 03/05/2001