Peter Powell

“EPA Can’t Give Date for Responding to Ruling on Greenhouse Gases.” That was the headline over a news item from the Associated Press that appeared in a newspaper in early March. Here are a couple of pertinent paragraphs:

“Nearly a year after being told to do so, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday he couldn’t say when he would comply with a Supreme Court directive and determine whether greenhouse gas emissions … should be regulated.

“In a tense exchange with a senator, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson suggested that few, if any, people at the agency were directly working on the issue now. The high court in April 2007 had said the EPA was required to determine whether carbon dioxide or other heat-trapping greenhouse gases posed a danger to public health.”

Much of the article seemed to relate to vehicle issues, but the fact that the fuss is going on still should be of interest to those in the HVAC and refrigeration industry. Historically, the move away from CFCs and the need for recovery of refrigerants started in the automotive sector and spread to the stationary sector.

A second reason to watch these latest developments is concern that HFC refrigerants could one day face greater government regulations or even phaseouts. HFCs are not ozone-depleting gases, but some do have a perceived high global warming potential.

The automotive sector may be dealing with emission issues unrelated to refrigerants for now, but consider that the refrigerant in vehicles is HFC-134a, the same refrigerant used in the stationary sector in both small refrigeration units as well as large chillers. And that is a refrigerant perceived to have a high global warming potential.

HFCs are starting to specifically come in the sightline of some governmental entities. A Feb. 15 correspondence from Ted Gartland, director of refrigerants and regulatory compliance for Verisae, said, “In the latest version of the proposed Warner Lieberman Americas Climate Security Act, there is an HFC cap.”

Gartland said, “This is not yet law, but is currently the leading climate change bill in Congress. The bill puts in place declining caps on the consumption and importation of HFCs into the U.S. The (proposed) cap starts in 2010 and is calculated using a multi-step method.”

What is clear from all this is that nothing is clear. The EPA is, according to the Associated Press story, not even close to doing what the Supreme Court told it to do concerning an evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions. And who knows what twists and turns the Warner Lieberman document may end up going through to ever become law.

But as contractors go about tasks that involve the use of refrigerants, they need to be aware that this precious commodity is not immune to governmental control.

In one respect, most contractors don’t fear fines for illegal venting of refrigerant, which was once the biggest concern in the industry. Where regulations have had the greatest impact on our industry has been on supplies of refrigerants. We are not using CFCs and we are facing a shortage of HCFC-22, solely because of governmental regulations.

The big issue these days is global warming, with extreme views still existing regarding whether it is a real threat. Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has joined with those who believe global warming is a hoax and often quotes meteorologist John Coleman in his strong contention about a hoax, which Coleman backs with his own documentation. On the other extreme is Academy Award Winner Al Gore who, in his documentation, paints an absolute worst-case scenario because of global warming.

Virtually all manufacturers in the HVACR industry accept the validity of global warming concerns and have their documentation, which falls somewhere between Coleman’s and Gore’s.

Contractors can choose to personally believe one or the other or any point in between. But they need to accept the industry’s overall acceptance of the need to address global warming issues. Those steps include maintaining tight systems and proper recovery/recycling/reclamation.

Publication date:05/05/2008