In August, a federal appeals court rejected a U.S. EPA regulation requiring manufactures to phase out hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants for chemicals that are less potent greenhouse gases. The 2015 regulation, created during the Obama administration, limited HFCs in refrigerants, vehicle air conditioners, coolers in groceries and other retail stores, and vending machines. The rule also limited the use of these chemicals as foam blowing agents and in aerosol cans.
The Ruling and Reasoning
The decision, made on August 8th by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruled 2-to-1 that the U.S. EPA did not have the authority to use section 612 of the Clean Air Act as a basis for the regulation.
The court stated, “The fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, as all parties agree. Because HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances, Section 612 would not seem to grant EPA authority to require replacement of HFCs.”
Section 612 of the Clean Air Act requires manufacturers to replace substances that deplete stratospheric ozone with safer substitutes. While HFCs are only weak ozone-depleting substances, they are, like CFCs and HCFCs, strong greenhouse gases. If production trends continue, projections show that, by 2050, the amount of global warming by all HFCs could be as large as 20 percent that of carbon dioxide (NASA).
The two plaintiffs in the case were non-U.S. manufacturers of HFCs: Mexican company Mexichem Fluor and French company Arkema SA. In February, the Trump administration, along with intervenors (the National Resources Defense Council, Chemours and Honeywell), defended the EPA in oral arguments. Chemours and the NRDC are exploring an appeal (hydrocarbons21).
What is Next?
Other than the companies directly affected by this ruling, industry has so far been reserved in its reaction. This is partially due to the EPA and intervening defendants not yet having responded or indicated its next steps. Despite the ruling appearing to be a major set-back for HFC replacement, many U.S. chemical companies say they are working to produce climate-friendly products used in refrigeration and air conditioning.
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