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Greenhouse Gases

EPA cracks down on illegal HFC activity

The agency hands out fines and warnings to companies sneaking around rules on the potent pollutants

by Leigh Krietsch Boerner
February 1, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 4


External unit of commercial air-conditioning and ventilation system installed on the roof of an industrial building.
Credit: Newscom
Most hydrofluorocarbons are used for refrigeration and air-conditioning.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is coming down on companies that illegally import hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

The agency announced recently that it was slapping the geothermal power company Open Mountain Energy with a $41,566 fine for trying to import nearly 20 metric tons (t) of unnamed HFCs. “If released into the atmosphere, these HFCs are the equivalent of 20,600 t of CO2, or the same amount of CO2 produced from powering 4,008 homes with electricity produced from coal for a year,” an EPA statement says.

In December, the agency penalized Sigma Air, a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning company, for trying to bring about 1.7 t of a refrigerant blend called R-410A into the US. The EPA didn’t fine Sigma but instead put it on a “watch list” for repeat offenders.

Most companies make or use HFCs for refrigeration and air-conditioning, but some use them to in foams and propellants or as solvents and fire protecting agents. The EPA is urging industries to switch to alternative refrigerants such as hydrofluoroolefins or nonrefrigerant-based cooling technologies, such as evaporative cooling.

In October, the agency announced two new actions on HFCs: a final rule with timelines to reduce their manufacture and use, and a proposed rule to regulate emissions and support the reuse of existing HFCs. These moves stem from a goal included in the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020 to cut use of HFCs by 40% by 2024 and 85% by 2036.

The high warming potential of HFCs makes them powerful greenhouse gases. Compared to CO2 HFC emissions are a tiny fraction, but they account for fully 2% of total greenhouse gases on a CO2 basis. In 2022, the US joined the Kigali Amendment, an addendum to the Montreal Protocol aimed at reducing the production and use of HFCs.

Under the AIM Act, the EPA grants companies an annual allowance for HFC use, manufacture, or importation. Firms are required to report amounts to the EPA and can ask for increases under certain circumstances.



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