January at-a-glance…environment

EPA authorized to address nationwide HFC reductions

A U.S. nationwide approach to hydrofluorocarbon reductions, versus multiple state-by-state efforts, is on the horizon. In late December, Congress gave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authority to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs in the $2.3 trillion omnibus spending package that also included the second COVID-19 relief package. Section 103 of the legislation empowers the EPA to address HFCS consistent with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.

“This is a significant improvement for the industry’s cold-side, which has faced multiple and conflicting state-by-state regulations,” said Charlie Souhrada, CFSP, NAFEM’s vice president, regulatory & technical affairs. “It’s a solution NAFEM has been working toward for more than five years.”

The EPA has long had the authority to regulate the ozone-depleting substances that HFCs replaced, but the courts have declined to allow the agency to use that power to regulate HFCs. As a result, states stepped in with their own plans. Now, EPA will have 270 days from the Dec. 27 date of enactment to issue a final rule covering the phase down and consumption of HFCs. Also beginning on the date of enactment, state laws will be preempted for five years, with another five-year preemption possible.

The new legislation came out of the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2019 (AIM) that received widespread support from NAFEM, the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others.

“We are gratified that negotiators included this bipartisan, jobs-promoting language in the Omnibus bill. We also are grateful to the Senate and House champions who worked so hard to see it accomplished, and to the House and Senate for passing the bill,” said AHRI President & CEO Stephen Yurek. 

The bill regulates HFCs in three ways:

  1. It gradually phases down the production and consumption of HFCs over a 15- year period via an allowance allocation program, similar to the way ozone-depleting substances were regulated under Title VI.
  2. It authorizes EPA to establish standards for the management of HFCs used as refrigerants and for the recovery of “used” HFCs for purification and resale.
  3. It authorizes EPA to establish sector-based use restrictions, as a way to facilitate transitions to next-generation refrigerant technologies. These use restrictions aid sectors able to transition more quickly out of HFCs and providing more flexibility for those sectors in need of more time to complete a transition.

The bill will not interfere with the use of HFCs in existing refrigeration and air conditioning equipment – meaning consumers won’t be forced to replace equipment before the end of its useful life. The bill also won’t constrict aftermarket supplies of HFCs for servicing existing equipment.

In the coming weeks, NAFEM will work with AHRI and others to gain alignment on sector-specific recommendations to EPA.

State HFC reduction efforts continue

Until EPA begins work on nationwide HFC reductions, individual states continue to proceed with developing and introducing regulations. As reported last month, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) issued its HFC prohibition plan that took effect Dec. 25, 2020. The plan prohibits the use of certain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigeration equipment, air conditioning chillers, aerosol propellants and foams manufactured or used in Massachusetts. The prohibitions begin phasing in January 1, 2021 to January 1, 2024 based on the end-use sector. NAFEM also submitted comments to Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) on its proposed HFC regulations slated to take effect June 1, 2021 through June 1, 2023.