10/27/2018 - Regulatory Rollback

Hydrofluorocarbons and the Refrigerant Management Program

by EELP Staff

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

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

Sep. 18, 2018 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issues 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. The comment period for this proposal closes on Nov. 15, 2018.

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.

Nov. 18, 2016 EPA finalizes a rule that extends the Section 608 leak repair requirements beyond ozone-depleting refrigerants to HFCs and other commonly used substitute refrigerants. The duty to repair leaking appliances will now apply to most refrigerants. The rule also strengthens 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 estimates that the final rule will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 1.5 million cars off the road. While the regulation took effect on January 1, 2017, some provisions had compliance dates of January 1, 2018, and January 1, 2019.

Trump Era

Aug. 10, 2017 In response to requests by industry, EPA announces that it will revisit the 2016 extension of refrigerant management requirements to HFCs.

Sep. 18, 2018 EPA issues 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 will not affect the requirements for ozone-depleting refrigerants. The comment period for this proposal closes on Nov. 15, 2018.