Hydrofluorocarbons and the Refrigerant Management Program

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Why it Matters

In 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began approving hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) for use in refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation, and aerosols in place of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).  CFCs, which destroyed the protective stratospheric ozone layer when released into the atmosphere, were phased out by the U.S. in compliance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act. Although HFCs pose a much lower risk for ozone depletion, they have a high global warming potential and their continued use contributes to climate change. In fact, HFCs can cause thousands of times more warming in the atmosphere than CO2 in the short term.

In 2016, the international community, led by the U.S., adopted an amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, to phase out the use of HFCs. Pending ratification of the amendment, the EPA used its Clean Air Act authority to set certain rules for the use of HFCs.

Current Status

On September 18, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule, Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Revisions to the Refrigerant Management Program’s Extension to Substitutes. The agency is proposing to rescind a 2016 modification of provisions that regulate repair, maintenance, and disposal of appliances containing ozone-depleting substances. The 2016 modification extended the regulations that had covered only ozone-depleting substances, to cover appliances using substitute refrigerants, such as HFCs. EPA is now taking the position that it does not have the legal authority to extend these provisions to substitute refrigerants. This proposal would not affect the requirements for ozone-depleting refrigerants.

Comments on the proposal are due on November 15, 2018 and can be submitted directly to regulations.gov.

History

Under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, EPA regulates the management of appliances using ozone-depleting refrigerants. Section 608 prohibits knowingly releasing ozone-depleting refrigerants into the air during the maintenance, repair, or disposal of appliances or industrial process refrigeration. Under the related regulations, HFCs are considered “substitute refrigerants,” because they were originally developed as a safer substitute to CFCs and other ozone-depleting refrigerants.

On November 18, 2016, EPA finalized a rule that extended the Section 608 leak repair requirements beyond ozone-depleting refrigerants to HFCs and other commonly used substitute refrigerants. The duty to repair leaking appliances would now apply to most refrigerants. The rule also strengthened other provisions of the program, including: lowering the threshold at which leaks must be repaired, requiring periodic leak inspections, and updating the requirements for disposal of appliances containing refrigerants. EPA estimated that the final rule would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 1.5 million cars off the road.

On August 10, 2017, in response to requests by industry, EPA announced that it would revisit the 2016 extension of refrigerant management requirements to HFCs.

On September 18, 2018, EPA issued a proposed rule, Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Revisions to the Refrigerant Management Program’s Extension to Substitutes. The proposed rule seeks to rescind the 2016 extension of “leak repair” provisions for appliances using substitute refrigerants. The proposed rule would apply to situations in which additional refrigerant must be added to an appliance (indicating that the appliance is leaking), which triggered requirements for appliances using substitute refrigerants under the 2016 rule. EPA is now taking the position that it does not have the authority to regulate substitute refrigerants in those instances.

These provisions had an effective date of January 1, 2019. EPA is now seeking to extend the effective date by 6-12 months, in case a final rule is not promulgated before January 1.

EPA also requests public comment on rescinding other provisions that were extended to substitute refrigerants.

Comments are due on November 15, 2018 and can be submitted directly to EPA through regulations.gov.


Thank you to Harvard student Laura Bloomer, JD/MPP 2019 for her assistance with this rule. For more information see SaveEPA’s post on this rule

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