US State leadership is keeping the HFC transition on track, and keeping the U.S. in sync with the global phase-down now underway under the Kigali Amendment. This past month, Washington State’s HFC phase down passed the legislature and Governor Jay Inslee signed bill HB 1112. Meanwhile, Vermont has announced that they are intending to phase down HFC refrigerants as well through their new bill ‘S. 30.’ The bill passed the legislature and is expected to have a signature from the governor soon. This adds to the ever growing list of states that have chosen to regulate HFCs.
So far all of these state planned phase downs have been modeled after the original Environmental Protection Agency’s SNAP Rule 20 and 21 from 2015. Vermont and Washington, along with twenty-three other states, are part of what’s known as the United States Climate Alliance. This alliance was formed when the Trump Administration pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord. The goal of the alliance is to create a coalition of states that work together to fight Climate Change and Global Warming. If the Federal Government isn’t going to do anything then the states will get it done and regulate HFCs themselves. The other states in the Climate Alliance are all expected to follow suit in the coming years.
The Federal Government’s positions on regulating HFCs has been confusing for the industry. The EPA’s SNAP Rule was thrown out by the courts. The Kigali Amendment went into effect at the beginning of this year but the United States never ratified the treaty. As more states join the phase down, manufacturing companies are going to be forced to move away from HFCs even without a Federal mandate. If enough states choose to regulate HFCs then manufacturers will either have to produce two different models,one for HFC states and one for non-HFC states, or the they will have to do a complete transition to lower GWP refrigerants.
The bottom line is that HFCs are going to be replaced by either natural refrigerants, hydrocarbons, or HFOs. If the U.S. government doesn’t ratify the Kigali amendment and/or the EPA doesn’t take charge of HFC’s, the U.S. may end up with a haphazard set of rules varying from state to state leading to even more refrigerant confusion.
The HVACR industry is constantly changing whether it be through new technology advancements or mandatory phase outs on Ozone and high GWP refrigerants. The most extensive changes to HVAC/R regulations in 2 decades go into effect in less than 2 weeks. On January 1, 2019 big changes are coming to Section 608 of the Clean Air Act, the law that regulates stationary refrigeration practices.
Originally when the leak rate changes were introduced they were thought to be applied to CFC, HCFC, and HFC refrigerants. While this is still the case today, the EPA did announce last month that they were considering removing the leak regulations on HFC refrigerants. This proposed rule was able to be commented on by the public and a ruling from the EPA is expected shortly. Until then, it’s safe to assume these changes to 608 are affecting both HFCs and CFC/HCFC refrigerants.
The 2019 changes will overhaul leak rate thresholds and the consequences for exceeding them. To avoid hefty fines and repercussions, detailed tracking, reporting and monitoring of refrigeration equipment will be required.
Here’s what you need to know about 2019 leak rate thresholds:
The new lower leak rate thresholds for all ozone-depleting substances and substitute cooling fluids are:
30% for industrial process refrigeration (previously 35%)
20% for commercial refrigeration (previously 35%)
10% for comfort cooling (previously 15%)
10% for other units (previously 15%)
If a commercial or industrial process refrigeration unit exceeds its leak rate threshold, it must be repaired and will be subject to the following series of inspections:
Equipment with more than 500 lbs. of refrigerant requires quarterly inspections by a certified technician until the asset has remained below the leak rate threshold for four successive quarters.
Equipment with 50 to 500 lbs. of refrigerant requires annual inspections by a certified technician until the asset has remained below the leak rate threshold for one year.
If a comfort cooling unit exceeds its leak rate threshold, it must be repaired and will be subject to the following series of inspections:
If a comfort cooling unit with 50 or more lbs. of refrigerant exceeds its leak rate threshold, following repair, it must be inspected annually by a certified technician until the leak rate has remained below 10% for one year.
The equipment owner is required to provide specific documentation on servicing, leak rates, repairs and more for units that exceed their threshold. In addition to regular inspections, the equipment owner must demonstrate through leak rate calculations that the unit has been successfully repaired. Leak rates must be calculated initially with a verification test before refrigerant is added, as well as once the unit has returned to normal operating conditions.
The fines associated with violating any Section 608 rule can total $37,500 per day, plus expensive repair and replacement costs.
The best way to remain compliant with Section 608 is to use an HVAC service management software. With the stringency of the new requirements, calculating and reporting on paper or using a hodgepodge of disparate software products could leave you vulnerable to serious consequences.
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.
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.
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.
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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This past week, Connecticut and Maryland announced that they would be joining New York and California in phasing out HFC refrigerants. The four states are taking the lead and hope to encourage others to follow suit in defiance of US government policy.
All four states will model their new regulations off of the previous EPA’s SNAP rules from 2015, which were dropped by the government of President Donald Trump.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York hoped to pick up the responsibility of climate leadership in the US in protest at what he called efforts by the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections and deny the impact of climate change.
Gov. Cuomo stated: “While the Trump administration denies climate change and rolls back efforts to protect our planet, New York is picking up the mantle of climate leadership and forging a path forward. We are taking action to begin the phase out of the use of hydrofluorocarbons, and I encourage other states to join with New York and California to combat dangerous HFCs. In New York we believe denial is not a life strategy, and we will continue to fight climate change to protect our economy, our planet, and our future.”
With Maryland and Connecticut now joining New York, California and Canada in calling for the phase-out of HFCs, it will help to drive the industry nationally and globally to phase out these pollutants. This will also benefit those U.S.-based businesses that produce the substitutes for HFCs.
With 3 states coming forward in the last week, it is likely that we will see more states join in the HFC phase-out. These states are all a part of the United States Climate Alliance. The United States Climate Alliance is a gathering of States and Territories that aim to uphold the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which the Trump Administration pulled the United States out of last summer.
While there are only seventeen States in this alliance, it’s the size of the states that’s important. Over forty percent of the United States population resides in these States and over forty-five percent of the US GDP comes from these States.
States in the alliance are:
California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington
As more states follow suit, we will begin to phase out HFCs by default. If just under half of the country’s population are living in HFC phase down States, then it wouldn’t make sense for companies to continue using HFCs in newer applications. Why make two different models for different States if we can just make the switch and have one model in both States?
Several major HVAC and Refrigerant manufacturers have already announced their support for California’s HFC phase down law. If they are in favor, then we are inevitably going to see the end of HFC refrigerants in the United States.
Paul Kirsch, Chemours President of Fluoroproducts, expressed disappointment in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision.
“We believe that the legal basis of the SNAP 20 rule was well-founded, and the Court’s ruling exceeded its jurisdiction, effectively invalidating a decades-old EPA regulation and believe the decision has failed to take into account the EPA’s original directive to ensure that safer alternatives are used to replace ozone-depleting substances,” Kirsch said. “A number of states, academia, and businesses share our concern and feel the preservation of this rule is in the best interest of the public, the environment, and US industry.”
Honeywell claims that American companies have invested more than $1bn to invent, commercialise and manufacture safer replacement alternatives to ozone-depleting substances, such as HFOs. “The DC Circuit decision undermines the innovation and investments that American businesses have made to create and transition to safer alternatives,” it says.
The NRDC commented on the original appeal ruling: “If allowed to stand, [it] will let HFCs keep fuelling dangerous climate change, increasing risks for the millions of Americans who are living through hurricanes and other extreme weather events, and experiencing many other climate impacts.”
Meanwhile, earlier this month, New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, along with a coalition of 11 Attorneys General, filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia Circuit against the U.S. EPA. The suit challenges the EPA’s decision to completely void 2015 regulations pertaining to the use of HFCs and argues that rescinding the rule violates the Clean Air Act.
“The Trump EPA seems intent on taking every opportunity to undermine efforts to fight climate change,” said AG Bob Ferguson. “It’s irresponsible, dangerous, and contrary to the purpose of the EPA.”
The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to maintain lists of safe and prohibited substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals. The EPA originally listed HFCs as safe substitutes. In 2015, the EPA issued a rule listing HFCs as “unacceptable” substitutes because of their high global warming potential.
Two major manufacturers of HFCs, Mexichem Fluor and Arkema, sued the EPA over the 2015 rule. In that case, the court held that the EPA lacks legal authority to require a product manufacturer that has already replaced an ozone-depleting chemical with HFCs to switch to a safer alternative.
In April 2018, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt went beyond the Mexichem court ruling and issued “guidance” completely reversing the 2015 rule. This removes the HFC restriction for all entities, not just for product manufacturers that currently use HFCs.
The states contend the EPA’s “guidance” rescinded the rule without the required notice or comment period. The Clean Air Act requires notice and comment prior to adopting or repealing a rule.
The states’ decision to sue the EPA adds to the growing pressure on the U.S. to take action on phasing-out HFCs at the federal level and to ratify the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
The job of the HVAC/R unit you install is to keep your clients cool or warm. But the fundamental substance that makes this heating and cooling equipment run — refrigerant — is undergoing a massive shift globally and if you’re not on top of the HVAC refrigerants HFC phase-down, new regulations, and end-dates your company could be left out in the cold.
The Montreal Protocol, put into effect in 1989, is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion. Some of the most common and popular refrigerants used in HVAC equipment today are being phased out and replaced by newer, more environmentally friendly alternatives.
CFCs were the first to be phased-out. HCFC’s, specifically R-22, is currently in the process of being phased-out. On or after January 1, 2020, no new or imported R-22 will be allowed into the United States. Then, the only available material will come from recycling, which today accounts for less than 10% of needs. R-22 is indicative of how generations of refrigerants can lapse before the equipment does. As well, the prices for R-22 will continue to rise as a shortage looms. There is simply not enough refrigerant to fill all the needs for all the equipment in service using R-22 in the United States.
HFC’s, the 3rd generation of refrigerants, are next on the list and have already begun to be phased down while new alternatives are tested. Created in the 1990’s to replace CFC’s, HFCs turned out to be catastrophic for global warming. Although they are safe for the ozone layer, they are thousands of times worse for trapping heat than carbon dioxide. In 2015, the EPA ruled in favour of the HVAC Refrigerants HFC phase-down under the SNAP program (Significant New Alternatives Policy). However, on August 8, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of two chemical companies in the case of EPA vs. Mexichem Fluor & Arekema. The court stated the EPA cannot ban HFCs under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act because that provision was designed only to address ozone-depleting substances. EPA had an opportunity to appeal the ruling but chose not to. Two refrigerant manufacturers, Honeywell and Chemours, along with the National Resources Defense Council filed a petition for rehearing of the August D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.
A growing alliance of industry and states agree that this regulation is in the best interest of public health, industry and the environment. In its initial decision, the Court agreed that next-generation technologies such as HFOs are better for human health and the environment. Phasing down the use of outdated HFCs is a critical step that the world is taking to drastically reduce the environmental impact of refrigerants, aerosols, solvents, and blowing agents. Stephen Yurek, president and CEO of the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) said: “Despite the court’s decision, our industry remains committed to ratification and implementation of the Kigali Amendment to globally phase down the use of HFC refrigerants.”
The Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol calls for a global HVAC refrigerants HFC phase-down. The U.S. was a party to the amendment, but to go into effect, the Senate would need to ratify it. If the Senate does that, HFCs will certainly need to be regulated in some way or the other for the U.S. to meet its commitments.
We are now entering a world that truly considers the impact of our choices not only financially but also environmentally, and we are trying to find the right alternative refrigerants, ones that have high performance and are also safe to the public, the technicians working with the refrigerants, and to the environment.
David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is appealing the D.C. Court decision, said “The fact is, safer, climate-friendlier alternatives are readily available and should be used more to help cool our overheating world. It’s also true that the U.S. has been a leader in advancing HFC alternative technologies. … We cannot go backward, or the climate damage suffered by the American people will only magnify.”
The fact of the matter is, HVAC refrigerants will continue to be phased out or down and a whole new generation of equipment and refrigerants will be introduced. As a contractor, it is your job to make sure your technicians are up to speed as to what’s being phased out or phased down and when, what alternative refrigerants are available and how to handle them safely, and new regulations around refrigerant recovery, recycling, and disposal.
Contact FIELDBOSS and learn how we can help you track leaks and report refrigerant use including date and time of service, set up and track work area assessment, job hazard assessment, personal protection, and safety environmental issues for each of your service activities and requests.