USA: A US Court has restored a prohibition on switching from ozone depleting substances to HFCs in a number of specific applications including large refrigeration systems in supermarkets.
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency acted illegally in suspending the agency’s limits on the uses of certain high GWP HFCs. The court restored a prohibition on switching from ozone depleting substances to HFCs in uses such as large refrigeration systems in supermarkets.
The decision is a victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council and a coalition of states led by New York that sued EPA in 2018 to restore the prohibition.
Peter DeMarco, attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, hailed the decision as “an important victory for our climate”.
“The court’s decision restores common-sense restrictions on HFC use that EPA had illegally removed. EPA must ensure that as companies complete their transition away from ozone-depleting substances, they switch to alternatives safer than climate-polluting HFCs,” he said.
In 2015, and based on the availability of safer alternatives, the EPA introduced plans to restrict high GWP refrigerants through usage bans. Under the EPA rules, high GWP refrigerants including R404A, R134a, R407C and R410A were to be removed from the EPA’s SNAP list.
The EPA rule revised the status of HFCs by moving certain highly climate-polluting HFCs from the safe list to the prohibited list for specific uses, including aerosol propellants, motor vehicle air conditioners, supermarket refrigeration systems, vending machines, and some insulating foams.
Refrigerant manufacturers Mexichem and Arkema and others argued that the 2015 Rule exceeded the EPA’s statutory authority under Section 612 of the Clean Air Act. While the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit unanimously affirmed EPA’s authority to change the status of a substitute from safe to prohibited, the divided panel voted 2-1 to vacate the 2015 HFC Rule “to the extent it requires manufacturers to replace HFCs with a substitute substance.”
While it was found that the EPA lacked the authority to force users who had already switched to HFCs to make a second switch to a different substitute, the DC Circuit also determined that the EPA could continue to forbid current users of ozone-depleting substances from switching to HFCs.
Rather than implement the parts of the rule that the court upheld, ie preventing anyone still using ozone-depleting chemicals from switching to HFCs on the prohibited list, the EPA opted to do the opposite by throwing out the whole 2015 HFC Rule. The NRDC argued that this was done without a rulemaking, no proposal and with no opportunity to comment, as required by law.
The only product types impacted are those for which EPA made some HFCs unacceptable in SNAP Rules 20 and 21. Air conditioning is not included in either of those rules, with the exception of building chillers seeing some HFCs become unacceptable in 2024.
According to the NRDC, the biggest impacted sector will be supermarkets. “Before this latest ruling, a supermarket still using R22 might have been tempted to rely on EPA’s guidance to switch to one of the unacceptable HFCs. The court’s ruling implies that doing so going forward would violate the current EPA SNAP regulations and thus the law,” a spokesperson told the Cooling Post.
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