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Court strikes down U.S. restrictions on HFCs

EPA rule had limited potent greenhouse gases, boosted market for HFO substitutes

by Cheryl Hogue & Marc Reisch
August 8, 2017

Credit: Shutterstock
A U.S. court struck down a regulation ending the use of HFC-134a in car air conditioners beginning with model year 2021.

A federal appeals court has struck down a U.S. regulation that requires manufacturers to replace hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants with chemicals that are less potent greenhouse gases.

The Aug. 8 decision hands a victory to HFC makers Mexichem Fluor and Arkema. It’s a loss for Honeywell International and Chemours, which manufacture hydrofluoroolefins, a new generation of refrigerants which have a very low potential to cause global warming. In a statement, Honeywell says it is “deeply disappointed” in the court’s ruling.

The legal case involves a 2015 regulation from the Obama Environmental Protection Agency. The agency restricted HFCs and blends containing HFCs because of their potential to contribute significantly to global warming. Not only did the regulation limit these chemicals in refrigerants for vehicle air conditioners, coolers in groceries and other retail stores, and vending machines, it also limited their use as blowing agents that expand plastic into foam and in aerosol cans.

EPA based its regulation on a part of the Clean Air Act that requires manufacturers to replace substances that deplete stratospheric ozone with safer substitutes. HFCs don’t harm the ozone layer, but they were developed as alternatives for chemicals, such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons, that do.

“The fundamental problem for EPA is that HFCs are not ozone-depleting substances,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled. The section of the Clean Air Act that EPA used as the basis for its regulation does not give the agency authority to require replacement of substances that do not harm stratospheric ozone, a three-judge panel ruled. HFOs, like HFCs, are benign to stratospheric ozone.

The decision has implications for the U.S. in an international treaty, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, points out Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.). Under that pact, the U.S. has an obligation to phase out HFCs. Carper says he will work with the Trump Administration and colleagues in Congress to shift the U.S. from use of HFCs to “smarter alternatives.”

Mexichem Fluor and Arkema, which brought the case against EPA, make HFC-134a, which has been used widely in car air conditioners for years. The EPA rule would have banned the use of HFC-134a as an air conditioner refrigerant in most cars and trucks sold in the U.S. starting with model-year 2021.

Chemours and Honeywell, makers of the new automotive refrigerant HFO-1234yf, intervened in the case on behalf of EPA.

“We strongly encourage the EPA to continue pursuing the phase-out of HFCs and the benefits it provides,” Honeywell says.



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Jim McCool (August 10, 2017 10:57 AM)
As the court noted, there is no ozone depletion concern with HFCs. Apparently, the EPA is not willing to tackle the actual reason for eliminating HFCs: Global Warming Potential. Global Warming Potential (GWP) is the ratio of a chemical to trap heat in the atmosphere compared to the impact of carbon dioxide. HFCs trap thousands of times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and they hang around a long time. Because of this, the US agreed with about 170 countries at the Kigali, Rwanda meeting on Oct 15, 2016, to freeze production of HFCs in 2018 and to reduce to 15% of 2012 levels by 2036 . The agreement is a legally-binding amendment to the Montreal Protocol Treaty. Whether current EPA management believes in Global Warming or not, the defense of phasing out HFCs is now required by the treaty and the regulations applying the time tables for the US should be defended in court and upheld. HFOs (hydrofluoroolefins) are a possible replacement for HFCs because they break down quicker.

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