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EPA Ups Enforcement of Refrigerant Leakage, Time to Cover HFCs

By Lowell Chandler, EIA Climate Policy and Research Associate and Christina Starr, EIA Global Climate Campaign Fellow

Leaking refrigerants are a major cause of climate change because they predominantly consist of two families of synthetic manmade chemicals called hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)—both ozone depleting substances and super greenhouse gases (GHGs)—and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—powerful GHGs. Fortunately, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act to require that owners and operators of large refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, like supermarkets and manufacturers, promptly identify and repair leaks of HCFCs and to restrict the amounts of these gases that can be emitted. Regulations issued under Section 608 currently do not currently give the EPA the ability to control emissions of HFCs.

While the HCFC requirements have been in place for over two decades, the EPA has recently signaled that it’s cracking down on enforcement. Earlier this month, the EPA fined DuPont, one of the largest refrigerant manufacturers in the world, for leaking HCFCs from a cooling system found in its Chambers Works chemical manufacturing complex in Deepwater, New Jersey. This announcement came less than six months after the EPA imposed similar fines on two major supermarket companies, Safeway and Costco, for their poor HCFC refrigerant management practices.

DuPont, in addition to leaking refrigerants, failed to provide the EPA with necessary and accurate refrigerant reporting. As the company that invented HCFCs, DuPont bears significant responsibility for the hole in the ozone layer and must be a leader in refrigerant management. DuPont’s poor refrigerant management cited by the EPA is unacceptable. Fortunately, the EPA is stepping up its enforcement efforts to mitigate HCFCs leaks, but the regulation of refrigerant leakage must be expanded to include leakage and venting of HFCs.

HFCs do not affect the ozone layer, but are hundreds to thousands of times more dangerous to the climate than carbon dioxide. When Section 608 was written, HCFCs were the most widely used refrigerants and as a result were the subject of the regulations that were issued at that time. As HCFCs were phased out under the Montreal Protocol in order to protect the ozone layer, HFCs became the primary substitute chosen by U.S. industry for HCFCs. However, evidence shows that HFCs are some of the most potent greenhouse gases in the world, and are the fastest growing contributors to climate change, with an expected 0.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperature by the end of this century.

In addition to stronger enforcement of HCFC leakage management, the EPA is now considering an extension of the existing regulations to encompass HFCs. The EPA held a stakeholder meeting last November to gather feedback from industry groups and civil society on the matter and overwhelming support was voiced for the EPA controlling the leakage and venting of HFCs. Expanding the Section 608 regulations to include HFCs would be a significant step forward in incentivizing responsible leak and venting management. In addition to avoiding heavy fines from the EPA, by undertaking state-of-the-art refrigerant management supermarkets and manufacturers would actually save money that would be spent on purchasing more HFC refrigerants to replace the ones that leaked and paying technicians to refill leaky equipment. Just like upgrading to a new refrigerator or air conditioner—which includes all the good features of the previous version but even better function—extending Section 608 to include HFCs and strictly enforcing it should come as an easy decision to both the EPA and industry.

Let the EPA know that you support expanding the regulations issued pursuant to Section 608 of the Clean Air Act to control of leakage and venting of HFCs. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to submit the below comment or your own.

[Gina McCarthy, Administrator Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20460

Subject: Extend Section 608 to Cover HFCs

Dear Administrator McCarthy,

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are powerful greenhouse gases that pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. The U.S. must lead on this issue to reduce emissions from refrigerant leakage. I support the EPA in its movement toward expanding Section 608 of the Clean Air Act to control leakage and venting of HFCs.

Sincerely, [NAME]]

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