By Steve Schaeber, MACS Technical Editor
On August 8, 2017, a US District Court of Appeals reversed a 2015 EPA rule which removed R-134a from their SNAP list of acceptable substitute refrigerants for newly manufactured passenger cars and light trucks beginning with the 2021 model year (MY). The lawsuit was brought by refrigerant manufacturers Mexichem and Arkema back in 2015 shortly after the rule was first announced.
This reversal is a setback for advocates of climate protection and HFC reduction, including Chemours and Honeywell, manufacturers of R-1234yf refrigerant, the HFO which has been replacing R-134a in mobile A/C systems since 2012, and which is now being used in approximately 60% of all newly manufactured US vehicles and almost 100% of those currently being sold in Europe. The two companies, along with lawyers from the Trump Administration, helped to defend EPA’s position in court hearings back in February.
In their opinion, the court cited EPA’s authority under Section 612 of the US Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. EPA’s 2015 HFC rule says that it can change the listing status of a refrigerant based on new information about its effects on human health and the environment. Since that information shows HFCs are highly potent greenhouse gases and major contributors to climate change, and alternatives are available which have drastically reduced effects, EPA setup a phase out schedule beginning with MY2021 and continuing until MY2025. But the court disagreed, saying that, “EPA’s authority to regulate ozone-depleting substances under Section 612 and other statutes does not give EPA authority to order the replacement of substances that are not ozone depleting but that contribute to climate change.”
Although they struck down this ruling, the court did offer EPA that it could still accomplish the same goal by using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act, or by using a “retroactive disapproval” approach. It’s now up to EPA to decide if it wants to appeal this court’s ruling (to continue to defend its authority as originally written back in 2015), or if it wants to simply start over, and write a completely new rule.
So what does this mean for the mobile A/C industry? We’ll have to wait and see what happens for now, but we can expect that those manufacturers who have already switched their vehicles over to use R-1234yf will continue to fill them with the gas. We may even continue to see vehicle platforms change over to yf in the coming years, as many are planned changeovers that are far along in the refresh or redesign process and which are unlikely to be reversed.
For some brands that have not yet made any changes to their US models (like Nissan, Infinity, Daimler, BMW, Porsche, Audi, Acura, and Lexus), we expect that unless EPA appeals this Court’s ruling (and wins), or revises the previous rule or even writes a new one, they will continue to use R-134a in their air conditioning systems perhaps even into the next decade.
There is also widespread support for the current changeover (and a lot of time and money has already been invested) by industry advocates, vehicle OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers, parts, tools and equipment manufacturers and distributors. Many repair shops and technicians have also invested in tools, equipment, education and training to work with the new refrigerant, too.