Since last year when a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could not ban HFCs through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, there has been a lot of confusion. End users who thought they would have to transition from high-GWP HFCs to other refrigerants were suddenly given a reprieve, while states, such as California and New York, started crafting their own HFC regulations that are far stricter than those of the EPA. Meanwhile, the EPA embarked on a rulemaking process that should eventually lead to a new policy regarding HFCs, although many in the HVACR industry hope the agency simply accepts the phasedown schedule recommended in the Kigali Amendment.
All of this has created a great deal of uncertainty in the industry. This was exacerbated in September when the EPA came out with a proposed rule that would roll back parts of Section 608 of its Refrigerant Management Regulations as they apply to HFCs. In November 2016, EPA had updated Section 608, extending the requirements that previously had applied only to refrigerants containing an ozone-depleting substance (ODS) to non-exempt substitute refrigerants such as HFCs. Since the Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA could not ban HFCs under the SNAP program, the agency decided that it also did not have the authority to regulate these refrigerants under Section 608.
If finalized as proposed, the revised Refrigerant Management rule would, among other things, rescind the leak repair and maintenance requirements for substitute refrigerants. For example, appliances with 50 or more pounds of substitute refrigerants such as HFCs would not have to be repaired if the leaks were above a threshold leak rate, and chronically leaking appliances would not have to be reported to the EPA. In addition, EPA is asking for public comments on whether technicians should have Section 608 certification before being allowed to purchase or handle HFCs, as well as if there should be a requirement to recover or reclaim HFCs.
This is a big step backwards for the industry, contends Rajan Rajendran, vice president of systems innovation center and sustainability at Emerson. At the recent E360 Forum in Houston, Rajendran noted that not only would this have a negative effect on the climate, it would negatively impact the HVACR industry as a whole.
“Our biggest concern is what happens if we don’t have to reclaim anymore,” he said. “If that happens, we could see all types of contaminated refrigerant getting into our equipment, leading to equipment failures. We expect our warranty rates will go up. And if we don’t need training for technicians anymore to work on HFCs? That’s going to be horrible.”
What is more worrying, though, is how the EPA plans to address HFCs — or any new refrigerant — going forward. As Rajendran noted at the forum, the EPA is struggling to decide whether or not it even has the authority to approve new refrigerants. If it decides it does not have the authority, the result will be a global vacuum.
“The SNAP approval process is practically used all over the world,” said Rajendran. “Even though it’s a U.S. listing, most countries look to see if a refrigerant is approved there, and if it is, then they approve it. Now everybody is asking, ‘Well, if the EPA is not going to do this, then who is?’ We don’t know yet. We don’t know if EPA will continue to do listings or not, but we do know that California has been given authority to list refrigerants. So, now, imagine — 50 states, each doing their own listing. How would you like that? I know we wouldn’t like it. It would be a nightmare.”
That’s why it is so important for the EPA to step up and decide how to regulate HFCs for the nation, because if it does not, then the HVACR industry could be exposed to a patchwork of regulations that varies from state to state. The EPA anticipates issuing a proposed rule addressing HFCs in early 2019, and let’s hope that it happens on time and is comprehensive. If that doesn’t come to pass, expect even more refrigerant turmoil in the coming years.
If you’d like to make your views on this topic known, you have until Nov. 15 to submit your written comments to EPA at www.regulations.gov. Be sure to reference Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0629 and follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
Publication date: 11/12/2018