Most of you are familiar with what’s known as the Refrigerant Sales Restriction. This restriction comes directly from the Environmental Protection Agency and aims at preventing novices and do-it-yourselfers from purchasing and handling refrigerant. By preventing these laymen from handling refrigerants we in theory shrink the amount of refrigerant that is leaked into the atmosphere.
This restriction was especially critical in the beginning stages of phasing out CFCs and HCFCs refrigerants such as R-12, R-22, and R-502 in the 1990’s and 2000’s. These refrigerants contained chlorine and chlorine was directly attributed to the damaging and thinning of the Ozone layer. Each time one of these refrigerants was vented into the atmosphere rather intentionally or by mistake damage was done. By imposing the sales restriction, imposing a host of other regulations like leak requirements, and by slowly phasing down chlorine refrigerants the Ozone was allowed time to repair.
In the summer of 2015 the Environmental Protection Agency came out with a new set of rules from their Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP). This new rule, deemed Rule 20, was aimed at phasing down the popular HFC refrigerants across the United States. Along with this new rule it was announced towards the beginning of 2017 that the EPA’s Refrigerant Sales Restriction would be carried over to HFC refrigerants as well.
You see, in the past you couldn’t buy CFC and HCFC refrigerants without a 608/609 license but you could still purchase HFCs. They didn’t require a license. That meant I could have walked into an Autozone and picked up a cylinder of R-134a without any licensing required. Well, all that changed this year folks on January 1st, 2018. That is when the new purchase restrictions went into place by the EPA. This move was expected by many in the industry and not a lot of folks were shocked by it.
What did surprise us though was a court’s ruling in August of 2017. When the EPA introduced their SNAP Rule 20 there were two companies, Mexichem and Arkema, that filed a lawsuit stating the EPA had overstepped it’s legal bounds. I won’t get into all of the details in this article, but the short version is that Arkema and Mexichem won the suit and the EPA’s Rule 20 was tossed out. There were appeals. There was even one to the Supreme Court, but none of them worked out.
Earlier this year the EPA announced that they were withdrawing their Rule 20 regulations and that they were looking into forming a new rule. Along with that it was announced by the EPA that they were rescinding their HFC leak regulations. Lastly, it was announced that the EPA was considering removing the sales restrictions on HFC refrigerants. There is nothing official here on if this will happen or not, but the EPA is definitely considering it.
Restrictions: Yes or No?
The HFC sales restriction may only last for the 2018 year and then may fade away. The question though is, is this good or bad? What repercussions will there be?
About five years ago I had a small side business that sold individual or multiple refrigerant cylinders online through stores like Amazon or Ebay. It was mostly R-410A and R-134a cylinders shipped to individuals across the country. There wasn’t a lot of money in it, but it gave me that entrepreneurial experience. Before the HFC restriction was in place there were dozens of places for individuals to purchase refrigerant cylinders. You could walk into a Sam’s Club and purchase a few cylinders of R-134a. There were online shops, dealerships, and retailers all selling refrigerant.
While this made things easy for consumers it also made it very easy for people who did not know what they are doing to get a hold of large quantities of refrigerant. If they made a mistake, which they would, then that large thirty pound cylinder of refrigerant would get vented into the atmosphere. And while HFCs do not damage the Ozone they are a Green House Gas and they do contribute to Global Warming.
So, by creating a sales restriction we can limit the amount of refrigerant that is vented and help reduce potential Global Warming problems but we also have the side effect of hindering business and do-it-yourselfers from working on their own equipment.
If I was to wager on what will happen I would bet that the restriction will go away soon. The current EPA and Presidential Administration has been very against nearly everything the EPA has done over the past few years and this appears to be no different. If the restriction is removed we will see the availability to purchase refrigerant online and through retailers come back and we will also see a slight increase on refrigerant price due to the flood of all of the do-it-yourselfers purchasing again.
What do you think the best outcome is?