EPA Repeals Obama Era HFC Leak Regulations

The trend of recent years continues folks. Just a few days ago on February 26th Andrew Wheeler, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, signed a rule on 608 refrigerant management regulations known as ‘Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Revisions to the Refrigerant Management Program’s Extension to Substitutes.’

This version signed by Wheeler is not the final version, but there is little expected to change. It was sent to the Federal Register for final verification and once verified will be published for all to see. The draft rule can be found in our ‘Sources’ section at the bottom of this article. This announced change is not instantaneous. The leak detection and record keeping rules will change thirty days after the final version is published by the Federal Register.

The initial rule for leak detection on HFCs was announced by the Obama Administration’s EPA back in 2016. In essence, they copied the rules that were already on file for CFC and HCFC refrigerants such as R-12, R-502, and R-22. These new HFC rules applied mostly to commercial applications or businesses such as super markets, plants/factories, large refrigerated warehousing, ice rinks, and any other large scale operations.

With the repeal of this rule businesses across the country are estimated to save around twenty-four million dollars per year. (Source) That is a significant amount but another factor, that is very difficult to measure, is the overall peace of mind of these business owners and managers. They no longer have to worry about compliance or the threat of the EPA breathing down their neck. Let’s take a look at exactly what will change once the Federal Register has published the final rule:

Today, the following rules have to be followed for any appliance that holds fifty or more pounds of HFC refrigerants (Source from Hydrocarbons21.com):

      • Conduct leak rate calculations when refrigerant is added to an appliance.
      • Repair an appliance that leaks above a threshold leak rate.
      • Conduct verification leak tests on repairs.
      • Conduct periodic leak inspections on appliances that exceed the threshold leak rate.
      • Report to Environmental Protection Agency on chronically leaking appliances.
      • Retrofit or retire appliances that are not repaired.
      • Maintain related records.

Reading the above requirements can really illustrate just how many hoops and regulations that these business owners had to go through to stay compliant. Don’t get me wrong folks, I am not entirely against having these regulations. What I am against though is how they came about. Any of you who have read my posts in the past know exactly how I feel about this. But, for those who aren’t as familiar with what I am talking about let us review.

The EPA and the Obama Administration used the Clean Air Act as their basis for authority when it came to phasing down and the regulation HFC refrigerants. Herein lies the problem though. The Clean Air Act sections that they were referencing strictly refers to Ozone Depleting Substances. These are your CFC and HCFC refrigerants such as R-12, R-22, R-502 that we all saw get phased out over the past thirty years.

Here’s the thing though… HFC refrigerants do not harm the Ozone. Not in the slightest. HFCs do harm the environment though, just in a different way. HFC refrigerants are known as super-pollutants or greenhouse gases. They directly contribute to Global Warming when they are vented or released into the atmosphere. So, they do cause a problem… but they do not cause any problem to the Ozone.

This reasoning is what the current EPA used when repealing the Obama era regulations. They claimed that the EPA overstepped its authority when introducing these HFC laws. I agree with them. While their intention was good back in 2016 it was NOT the right way to go about it. It was an overreach of the government. Just like with everything though, there is an opposing argument. This argument comes from those who are in support of the 2016 leak regulations. Their argument is that the Clean Air Act authorized them to regulation Ozone depleting substances AND their replacements. Those last two words are where the debate comes from.

I am not going to get into who is right here and what side should win. Let us instead just look at the facts. The EPA is entirely biased depending on what administration is in control. It was biased for Obama and now it is again for Trump. So, the real question is will we see all of this change again after this year’s election cycle? Who knows…

Purchase Restrictions?

When the EPA originally announced last year that they would be looking at rescinding the HFC leak regulations there was also talk that they may rescind the Obama era purchase restriction on HFC refrigerants. I am sure everyone remembers when anyone could go out and buy a cylinder of R-134a or R-410A and keep them on hand for those just in case situations. On January 1st, of 2018 the option to purchase HFC refrigerants without being either 608/609 certified with the EPA went away.

No longer could anyone purchase refrigerant cylinders. They could still purchase smaller quantities like cans, but the option to purchase those large cylinders was gone. This was again an example of the EPA moving the original regulations on CFCs and HCFCs over to HFCs. Overall, I think this had a positive effect on the industry itself. Yes, there was less demand but the contractors who were selling refrigerant to their customers could enjoy that extra mark-up without the risk of the customer purchasing their own cylinder.

I am in favor of removing the purchase restriction. It opens the market back up and, to be honest with you, before the restriction I was selling quite a bit individual cylinders on this website. It’d be nice to have that revenue stream open back up again! Regardless of my opinion though, it is looking like the purchase restriction may be rescinded as well. After all, if they removed the leak detection requirements why not remove purchasing as well?

Conclusion

The announcement of this rule change by the EPA is only going to fuel the United States Climate Alliance. The Climate Alliance is a grouping of states across the country that was formed a few years ago when the Trump Administration announced that the US would be pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. This alliance is dedicated to all forms of climate protection but one that has seen recent activity are regulations on HFC refrigerants.

With the removal of the EPA’s SNAP Rules 20 and 21 the Climate Alliance stepped up to the plate and began announcing their own HFC phase down laws. California, as usual, was the first of these states. It all began a domino effect though and we are seeing more and more states either pass HFC phase down legislation or announce that they are working on their own version. Just a week or so ago it was announced that Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are all working on their own version of regulations. In most cases the phase down laws closely mimic the original EPA’s SNAP Rules 20 and 21 but there are some states, like California, who went for a stricter approach.

One thing is certain, the Federal Government and the States are heading towards very different goals. If we keep seeing these EPA regulations repealed then we will begin to see more and more states announce their own plans and all of these Federal changes won’t mean squat. But hey, at least the states are going about this the right way and not trying to circumvent the law by using the Clean Air Act as a cover.

Thanks for reading,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

You may also like