On October 19, 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed to establish requirements for the management of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) potentially released from equipment during maintenance or other services, and manage spent HFCs.. These rules support US efforts to implement the 2016 Kigali Amendment to the United Nations-sponsored Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (which I wrote about HERE), and codified in the December 2020 coronavirus relief bill (American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act; which included dozens of unrelated provisions within its 5,593 pages). EPA adopted its over-arching HFC phase-down rules in September 2021 (I wrote about them HERE), and continues to adjust and refine their requirements. The remainder of this note summarizes EPA’s new proposal, which would impose requirements using authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
What are HFCs and why are they being phased down?
HFCs were developed primarily as substitutes for chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are the principal ozone depleting substances (ODSs) targeted by the Montreal Protocol. HFCs have lower but non-zero ozone depleting potential, and are also greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change. Accordingly, in 2016 roughly 200 national and international parties met in Kigali, Rwanda to complete negotiation of HFC phase-downs. Signatories (including the US) have committed to phased reductions to manufacturing and consumption of listed HFCs; enhanced HFC management requirements support these efforts.
What is EPA’s proposed Emissions Reduction and Reclamation Program?
EPA is proposing HFC management standards and establish an Emissions Reduction and Reclamation Program that will reduce HFC emissions from equipment such as air conditioner and refrigeration systems, and maximize the amounts of HFCs that can be reclaimed. Proposed compliance dates range between 60 days after publication of the final rule to January 1, 2028. Detailed proposed regulations address the following:
- Requirements under CAA
Most of the new requirements would be added to EPA’s CAA regulations, including:
- Leak repair of appliances containing 15 pounds or more of a refrigerant with HFCs (and/or substitutes for HFCs with a global warming potential (GWP) above 53), with specific exceptions
- Use of automatic leak detection (ALD) systems for certain new and existing appliances containing 1,500 pounds or more of a refrigerant with HFCs (and/or substitutes for HFCs with a global warming potential (GWP) above 53)
- A proposed reclamation standard;
- The use of reclaimed HFCs in targeted for refrigeration, air conditioning, and heat pump (RACHP) sectors or subsectors, and in the initial charge or installation of equipment and servicing and/or repair of existing equipment and the use of recycled HFCs in the initial charge or servicing and/or repair of fire suppression equipment;
- The servicing, repair, disposal, or installation of fire suppression equipment that contains HFCs, to minimize HFC releases from that equipment, and requirements for technician training in the fire suppression sector;
- Recovery of HFCs from disposable cylinders prior to disposal;
- Container tracking for HFCs that could be used in the servicing, repair, and/or installation of refrigerant containing or fire suppression equipment; and
- Recordkeeping, reporting, and labeling
EPA also requests advance comment on approaches for establishing requirements for RACHP sectors technician training and/or certification.
- Requirements under RCRA
EPA is also using its RCRA authority to propose standards for a newly-defined sub-category of “ignitable spent refrigerants” intended to reach “the lowest achievable level” of releases disposal of “lower flammability spent refrigerants” (HFCs and qualified substitutes that do not belong to flammability Class 3 as classified by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 34–2022) from equipment during the maintenance, service, repair, and disposal of [HFC-containing] appliances.
Comments on this proposal are due by December 18, 2023. As of this writing EPA has not stated when it intends to finalize the rules, but HFC regulation is a priority for the agency so I anticipate relatively prompt action during 2024. Readers should note that proposed compliance deadlines begin 60 days after the publication of final regulations, so an organization that would be subject to the proposed requirements should be preparing for accelerated compliance activities.
Does the organization own, operate, service, repair, recycle, dispose, or install equipment containing HFCs or their substitutes?
Does the organization recover, recycle, or reclaim HFCs or their substitutes?
Has the organization reviewed the proposed regulations to determine whether it would be subject to any of these requirements, and if so how it would comply?
Is the organization preparing comments on these proposed regulations?
Where do I go for more information?
Information available via the Internet includes:
- EPA proposed rules (10/19/23 Federal Register)
- EPA, “Protecting Our Climate by Reducing Use of HFCs” webpage
- Rulemaking webpage
About the Author
Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 30 years.
Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).
Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).
You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org