Under the Obama administration, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) because they contribute to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. For this reason, the previous government compelled HVAC businesses to collaborate to reduce the use of HFCs.
Two HFC manufacturers, however, sued the EPA on two grounds:
- The EPA overstepped its statutory authority under Section 612.
- The EPA’s decision to remove HFCs was arbitrary and capricious.
While the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out the latter, it ruled 2-1 in favor of the former.
So, why did the court rule this way and what does this decision mean for the HVAC industry?
What Is the EPA SNAP Rule Appeal?
The SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) is a program created by the EPA to enforce the bans on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). Both chemical compounds are used in refrigerants, but they damage the ozone layer.
The program also finds alternatives that are safer for the environment and consumers.
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HFCs do not harm the ozone layer, but they do contribute to global warming. For that reason, the EPA added rules to phase out HFCs in 2016.
Now, the court has ruled that the EPA cannot ban or order the replacement of HFCs under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act because that particular rule was designed to address ozone-depleting substances only.
The court also appealed to Congress to enact general climate change legislation in order to address chemical compounds that have global warming potential but are not ozone-layer-depleting. The court emphasized that the EPA may act only as authorized by Congress when it comes to regulating HFCs.
What Are the Implications for the HVAC Industry?
HVAC professionals are still committed to phasing out HFCs and developing better substitutes, although they may now feel less urgency without the EPA rules under Section 612.
The HVAC industry has reacted with disappointment. Some advocate for a global cap and phasedown of refrigerants with global warming potential (GWP).
Honeywell fears that the court’s decision may undermine the ability of American companies to “innovate, manufacture, and commercialize next-generation technologies that are better for human health and the environment.”
Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) is concerned that the ruling will result in uncertainty for future phase-out timelines. The decision may also affect the kind of products HARDI members can offer customers.
Trade association Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) warns that the transition to new refrigerants cannot be done hastily. Half of all HVAC systems in the US are incorrectly installed, which can lead to refrigerant leaks.
The ACCA urges industry professionals, politicians and activists to promote safe installation and maintenance practices with regard to new refrigerants.
Some EPA rules under Section 608 still apply to HFCs concerning the management of these refrigerants. These rules are responsible for regulating important details of HFCS:
- Leak rate threshold for repair
- Quarterly/annual leak inspections
- Monitoring of procedures
- Requirements for submitting reports on leaks
- Restrictions on sales of HFCs
- Refrigerant recovery during system disposal
As HVAC technology advances, so does the commitment to work with equipment that is environmentally friendly, energy-efficient and safe for customers. Aspiring HVAC technicians should always keep up with the latest rules and regulations in the industry.
Despite this recent ruling, many HVAC industry professionals have voiced their support for better refrigerants and emphasized their dedication to consumer safety. It’s probably safe to expect even more changes in the future.
Check out the 2017 refrigerant industry trends to stay current in how HVAC laws and regulations are changing.