Federal court blocks EPA regulation of HFCs - Smart Energy Decisions

Commercial, GHG Emissions, Industrial, Regulation  -  August 10, 2017

Federal court blocks EPA regulation of HFCs

A U.S. EPA-backed regulation prohibiting the use of certain refrigerant chemicals that have been considered greenhouse gases was overruled Aug. 8 by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.

Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, are the subject of the 2015 regulation instituted by the EPA under the Obama administration, which Trump’s EPA has continued to pursue for the chemical’s contribution to climate change, Bloomberg News reported Aug. 8.

U.S. chemical companies Honeywell International Inc. and The Chemours Co., which manufacture hydrofluoroolefin, the more natural replacement chemical made to compete with the traditional HFCs, have also supported the EPA regulation, according to a report by Chemical & Engineering News.

Ultimately, the federal court released a 2-1 decision that the regulation overstepped the authority of the EPA.

“We are deeply disappointed in today’s ruling because it will adversely impact American innovation, manufacturing and competitiveness in commercializing next-generation technologies,” Honeywell said in a statement. “We strongly encourage the EPA to continue pursuing the phase-out of HFCs and the benefits it provides.”

Chemical & Engineering News reported that the regulation would have limited HFCs in “refrigerants for vehicle air conditioners, coolers in groceries and other retail stores, and vending machines,” as well as “limited their use as blowing agents that expand plastic into foam and in aerosol cans.”

Following the Aug. 8 decision, The Hill reported that HFCs have “an Earth-warming potential up to 14,800 times that of the same volume of carbon dioxide.”

Many large grocery and retail stores that use artificial refrigerants in their operations had already begun work to transition to alternative refrigeration options. Target and Starbucks, for example, discussed their efforts earlier this year during a panel discussion of the phase-out regulation at the Better Buildings Summit in Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit against the regulation questioned whether the EPA could use the Significant New Alternatives Policy Program, also known as SNAP, which is a Clean Air Act program aimed at phasing out ozone-depleting substances, to mandate replacing HFCs.

According to news reports, the 2015 rule marked the first time the EPA tried to use SNAP to require the replacement of a non-ozone-depleting substance that had previously been approved by the agency. Chemical & Engineering News noted that HFCs don’t actually harm the ozone layer, but “were developed as alternatives for chemicals, such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons, that do.”

“The fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances,” the ruling states, arguing that the section of the Clean Air Act used as the basis for the regulation doesn’t give the EPA the ability to “require replacement of substances that do not harm stratospheric ozone.”

The two companies that brought the case against the EPA to court were Mexichem Fluor and Arkema. According to the ruling, both make HFC-134a, a refrigerant widely used in car air conditioners, which would have been prohibited under the regulation.


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