By Steve Schaeber, MACS Manager of Service Training
Those of you who have been following MACS WordPress BLOG know that much has taken place regarding refrigerant regulations in the last few years. Our recent saga started back in 2015 when the US EPA issued Rule # 20. Following that rule (in fact, the very next day) refrigerant manufacturers Mexican and Arkema sued the EPA over its requirement to stop using R-134a in new vehicle production beginning with MY2021. They thought the rule was unfair because the only practical alternative OEM car makers had was to switch over and use the new R-1234yf refrigerant, subject to many patents preventing them from making it.
The way they went about the court case was to say that EPA did not have the authority to regulate HFCs because the original clean air act only specified CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. Since Congress never gave EPA authority over these global warming gases (as is proposed by the recent Paris accord and Kigali amendments to the Montreal Protocol, which Congress has not yet ratified), EPA is not allowed to regulate them.
Federal Judge Brett Kavanaugh and two others agreed with Mexichem and Arkema, effectively throwing out that part of Rule # 20 back in August of 2017. Since then there has been appeals, with the most recent going to the US Supreme Court. However, as Kavanaugh is now an Associate Justice, the highest court declined to hear the appeal making the lower court’s rule stand.
In the meantime, EPA issued Rule # 21 in September 2017, which gave us our current refrigerant regulations (the purchase restriction) among others such as self-sealing cans. The rule primarily affected Section 608 and was widely supported by industry, so nobody’s thought it would become an issue.
And it hasn’t really, except that EPA is now reconsidering some of those regulations. Although we primarily live in the 609 world here with respect to mobile A/C, we are still affected by what happens with 608 (which includes EPA’s refrigerant management program, under which it regulates the purchase all refrigerants).
This brings us up to date with what’s been going on. But the story’s not over yet.
Back in September of this year, EPA issued a proposed rule (Protection of Stratospheric Ozone: Revisions to the Refrigerant Management Program’s Extension to Substitutes). In it they plan to revisit regulations pertaining to HFCs and other substitute refrigerants. Most of these would have the biggest effect on technicians and companies who work in the commercial / residential / industrial refrigeration markets, such as those technicians who service rooftop air conditioners on office buildings, warehouses, and residential home central air conditioning units.
However, there is one line in the proposed rule which could affect those who work in mobile A/C. The line simply says, “EPA is also taking comment on whether, in connection with the proposed changes to the legal interpretation, the 2016 Rule’s extension of subpart F refrigerant management requirements to such substitute refrigerants should be rescinded in full.” That’s a mouthful, but basically it means that EPA is considering whether it should rollback the rule requiring technician certification to purchase mobile A/C refrigerants (like R-134a and R-1234yf), along with the requirement for small can manufacturers to install self-sealing valves in those cans.
Should EPA decide to move forward with this rule, anyone would be allowed to purchase mobile A/C refrigerant (with the exception of R-12 which is statutory under the original clean air act).
And while it would also rescind the self-sealing valves, we don’t expect to see them go away. Can makers spent huge sums of money changing over their production lines to manufacture self-sealing cans, and market prices have already adjusted to the change.
So, at the time of this writing (December 2018), we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. We expect to hear some news from EPA early next year, perhaps during the Industry Update on February 22 at the MACS 2019 Training Event and Trade Show in Anaheim, California. Either way, stay tuned to MACS’ website www.macsw.org and the MACS WordPress BLOG for updates on this issue.