Federal Court Strikes Down EPA’s Phase-Out of HFC Refrigerants

Greetings everyone! I welcome you this weekend to breaking news in the refrigeration world. On August 8th, just a few days ago, a Federal Court in Washington D.C. ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed phase-out of HFC refrigerants. The lawsuit against the EPA and federal government was brought by one of the largest manufacturers of refrigerant in the world, Mexi-Chem and Arkema. These two companies joined together for their suit claiming that the EPA had overstretched it’s reach by using the Clean Air Act, section 612, as the basis for their phase-out of HFC refrigerants. Here’s the problem though, and here’s why there is a lawsuit. This section of the Clean Air Act comes from the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol was formed and signed all the way back in 1987. (You know, the year after I was born!)

The intention of this protocol was to phase out all of the Ozone depleting substances across the world. These included the common CFC and HCFC refrigerants. (R-12, R-22, R-502, etc.) This treaty was used for the past twenty years phasing out all of these damaging refrigerants. In 2015 the Obama Administration’s EPA created a new regulation that would call for the phase-out of all HFC refrigerants. This included your ever popular R-134a, R-410A, and R-404A. The thing is though that HFC refrigerants do not contribute to Ozone deletion, what-so-ever. There is no Chlorine in these refrigerants. No Chlorine means no damage to the Ozone. I wrote an article about this way back in 2015 where I mentioned how underhanded it was. It was not the right way to do it. If HFC’s mattered this much why didn’t they go through congress and get a proper law created?

Personally, I couldn’t be happier with this ruling mainly because the way the EPA went about this was all wrong. Mexi-Chem and Arkema couldn’t be happier either. The big losers here are the EPA obviously, but also Chemours, formerly DuPont, and Honeywell. Both DuPont and Honeywell invested billions into the new HFO refrigerants. They spent their billions on new plants and manufacturing centers across the world. They spent it on research. They spent in on alternatives such as 1234YF and R-452A. Now, here in America, the HFC refrigerants aren’t being phased out. That’s going to hurt.

“The EPA’s authority to regulate ozone-depleting substances under Section 612 and other statutes does not give the EPA authority to order the replacement of substances that are not ozone depleting but that contribute to climate change,” the court ruled. “Congress has not yet enacted general climate change legislation. Although we understand and respect EPA’s overarching effort to fill that legislative void and regulate HFCs, the EPA may act only as authorized by Congress.”

What Happens Next?

The court’s ruling struck down the executive order done by Barack Obama that was part of his climate action plan. So, while HFC refrigerants are not going to be forcefully phased-out in the next few years it doesn’t mean that they will be around forever. Part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan in 2013 was to get as many major companies on board with switching to lesser Global Warming Potential refrigerants such as Hydrocarbons or HFOs. Some of these companies were Coca-Cola, Carrier, Thermo-King, and many others. Even with this ruling a lot of companies have already stated that they will not be changing anything. It doesn’t make sense to reverse course now. What if another ruling happens next year and they have to redo everything they have been working towards? The safer investment is to stick with the new refrigerants. Businesses are always about the safer investment.

Overall this ruling gave everyone more time. R-134a isn’t going to be phased out in 2021 as previously stated by the EPA. (Click here for my article on that.) Now there isn’t a set phase-out date so car manufacturers can still use R-134a on their newer models if they so wish but a lot of them have already begun switching to the new HFO-1234YF. It’s the same story with R-404A. A lot of major companies have already begun switching over to the new HFO R-452A. The big dog of refrigerant right now, R-410A, is the one that I believe will last for at least another decade, maybe two. 410A’s days were numbered due to the HFC phasedown but now with this ruling 410A is the last thing on everyone’s mind. Everyone is focused on replacing 134a and 404A to worry about 410A.

The standard guy in the field wasn’t going to see much of a change over the next couple years anyways but now with this ruling everything may be pushed back another five years. So those old-timers out there may get to retire without having to deal with all of those new fangled HFOs coming on the market. We are still waiting to hear an official statement from the EPA but Honeywell publicly stated, “We strongly encourage the EPA to continue pursuing the phase-out of HFCs and the benefits it provides.”

What is Included in the Montreal Protocol:

The government tried using Chapter VI, 6, of the Clean Air Act to phase-out HFC refrigerants. The name of this chapter is called: “Stratospheric Ozone Protection” See a problem here? Well the courts did too! If we go inside this chapter of the Clean Air Act using the government’s official website we can see that all of the below substances were to be banned. There is no mention of HFC refrigerants anywhere. Funny, how they tried to just throw those in there.

The below is a listing of every chemical that was included in the Montreal Protocol:

Group I

  • chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC–11)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-12 (CFC–12)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-113 (CFC–113)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-114 (CFC–114)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-115 (CFC–115)

Group II

  • halon-1211
  • halon-1301
  • halon-2402
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-21 (HCFC–21)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-22 (HCFC–22)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-31 (HCFC–31)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-121 (HCFC–121)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-122 (HCFC–122)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-123 (HCFC–123)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-124 (HCFC–124)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-131 (HCFC–131)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-132 (HCFC–132)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-133 (HCFC–133)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-141 (HCFC–141)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-142 (HCFC–142)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-221 (HCFC–221)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-222 (HCFC–222)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-223 (HCFC–223)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-224 (HCFC–224)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-225 (HCFC–225)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-226 (HCFC–226)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-231 (HCFC–231)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-232 (HCFC–232)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-233 (HCFC–233)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-234 (HCFC–234)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-235 (HCFC–235)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-241 (HCFC–241)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-242 (HCFC–242)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-243 (HCFC–243)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-244 (HCFC–244)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-251 (HCFC–251)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-252 (HCFC–252)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-253 (HCFC–253)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-261 (HCFC–261)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-262 (HCFC–262)
  • hydrochlorofluorocarbon-271 (HCFC–271)

Group III

  • chlorofluorocarbon-13 (CFC–13)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-111 (CFC–111)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-112 (CFC–112)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-211 (CFC–211)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-212 (CFC–212)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-213 (CFC–213)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-214 (CFC–214)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-215 (CFC–215)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-216 (CFC–216)
  • chlorofluorocarbon-217 (CFC–217)

Conclusion

I’m not sure if this ruling is due to the now Republican controlled goverment or if it was just the courts doing their job. I won’t get into politics here but I have to say that the courts did the right thing here. As I said before if the EPA saw it as necessary to phase the HFC’s out then they should have gone through the proper channel and had a new law instated. They shouldn’t have tried to weasel in their own interpenetration of the Montreal Protocol which was clearly designed for Ozone depletion chemicals and not high GWP refrigerants.

Thanks for reading folks,

Alec Johnson

RefrigerantHQ

Sources

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