Where Does the U.S. Stand on HFC’s Heading into 2019?

Since last year, when a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA could not ban HFCs through its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, there has been a lot of confusion around HFC’s. 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, created their own HFC regulations. Many in the HVACR industry hope the U.S. simply accepts the phasedown schedule recommended in the Kigali Amendment which they have yet to ratify. So where does the U.S. stand in regards to HFCs heading into 2019?

The future of HFC controls at the federal level is unclear for a few reasons.

  1.  SNAP Ruling -The U.S Supreme Court has declined to consider a review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s decision to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ban on HFCs. This leaves in place the decision from last year, which overturned the EPA’s directives to ban high-GWP refrigerants such as R-404A and R-410A from use in certain applications.
  2. Kigali Amendment –The initial steps of the HFC phase-down are set to take place starting January 1st, 2019. Yes, that’s right… just a little over a month away. In order for this first step to be taken a total of twenty, or more, countries had to ratify the Kigali Amendment. Currently there are over fifty-three countries that have ratified. Some of these countries include Germany, Mexico, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France, Ireland, the European Union, and many more. Missing from that list is the U.S. The United States has not ratified the Kigali Amendment. It seems as though, for the United States, the Kigali Amendment has been forgotten. Businesses and many in the industry have pushed for Trump to ratify to no avail.
  3. EPA Section 608 – The EPA recently proposed to revise the Section 608 refrigerant management regulations, where it would “rescind the leak repair and maintenance requirements” for HFCs. In addition, EPA has asked 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. Last week Fifteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “strongly opposing” its proposed revisions to updated leak repair and maintenance regulations for stationary refrigeration and air conditioning equipment containing HFCs. The ACCA, America’s largest HVACR contractor group, has raised serious safety concerns over the possibility that unqualified people might be allowed to handle refrigerants. Not only would this have a negative effect on the climate, it would negatively impact the HVACR industry as a whole. If the EPA doesn’t step up and address HFCs, each state will end up with their own rules.

 

As of today, 4 states have already adopted their own HFC refrigerant regulations to compensate for the federal level activity. All of this has created a great deal of uncertainty in the industry. 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. If the U.S. government doesn’t ratify the Kigali amendment and/or the EPA doesn’t take charge of HFC’s, expect even more refrigerant confusion in the coming years.

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