There have been plenty of criticisms of the huge number of EU laws that have been imposed upon us. The laws may be many but the conviction to enforce them appears to be missing, argues Cooling Post editor Neil Everitt.

Europe flag in flamesAre we in Europe just a bit too smug about our achievements in seemingly leading the world in phasing out CFCs, HCFCs and now introducing a timetable for a phase-down in HFCs?

Some would argue that the rest of the world could learn a lot from the EU in its approach to this particular environmental issue. Only last week we reported how AREA is helping developing countries to manage their own refrigerant banks and using our experience from the F-gas regulations as a blueprint.

January 1 will be a landmark time in the EU, marking the service ban on the use of HCFCs and the implementation of a new, stronger F-gas regulation.

It has to be said, though, that these measures would never have been the success they are without the co-operation, honesty and integrity of the majority of the air conditioning and refrigeration industry because there is little, if any, enforcement of the laws.

Many complain about the number of EU laws being imposed upon us but it seems that European laws are largely ignored by the governments of member states. Transgress a national or local law, like traffic, parking, food hygiene, and the authorities are all over you like a rash.

Compare that with, say, in our case, the European F-gas regulations or the TM44 air conditioning inspections. These regulations have consumed considerable EU and national government man-hours in implementing – that we pay for – and have imposed considerable costs on our own industry in order to comply. But who actually ensures that the regulations are complied with and what are the penalties if they aren’t?

Some complain about being dictated to by Europe, but are we? A vast amount of tax-payers’ money is used to fund the beast of Brussels but it seems their laws are largely ignored to greater or lesser extents by member states. The majority of individuals and companies comply with these laws but the member states’ governments fail to back it up by providing the funds to adequately ensure compliance or fail to impose suitable sanctions on those who seek to ignore the law.

Take the case of the F-gas revision. How much has this actually cost so far? And who has been prosecuted under the existing regulations? Will this change with the new tougher revisions?

Enforcement

From an environmental perspective, there is a tendency to look down our noses at the USA’s failure to take the lead in this area. However, unlike us, our friends across the Atlantic don’t lack any commitment when it comes to enforcing their environmental laws.

We recently reported on the copper thief in the USA who faces 31 months in jail for releasing R22 to atmosphere as a consequence of his nefarious activities. Now that is a serious deterrent. Not only does this send a warning to those destroying air conditioning and refrigeration systems in order to make a few pounds from some scrap copper, it also sends a warning that targeting air conditioning and refrigeration systems faces extra penalties and reminds everyone else that wantonly releasing refrigerant to atmosphere will not be tolerated.

And this conviction was not the first. Amongst a number of similar convictions was the case of a 27-year-old man in April last year in Macon, Georgia, who was given 78 months for two counts of knowingly releasing ozone-depleting substances while stripping copper from air conditioning units. In addition, he was ordered to make restitution of nearly $180,000.

Two or three years ago, I spent a number of fruitless hours/days chasing various government departments for an answer to the question of just why those who attack air conditioning and refrigeration for the copper in this country are not also convicted for releasing refrigerant to atmosphere?

Nobody appeared to know or, it seemed, cared. The best answer that they came up with was that the penalties for copper theft were greater than those for wantonly releasing refrigerants to atmosphere.

The fine for not having an air conditioning inspection certificate is so small there’s no incentive to comply and, apart from a small department in Sheffield mainly employed to track those who fraudulently claim F-gas compliance, there has been no attempt to police regulations that have cost millions to implement.

Those who have complied with these laws deserve better.