What to Expect from the EPA’s New Rules Regarding Air Conditioners and Refrigerators

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“Super” greenhouse gases will soon be phased out in air conditioners and refrigerators in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday proposed new rules to reduce the use of the “super” pollutants used as refrigerants, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), by 85 percent over 15 years. Consumers probably won’t notice much of a difference with their devices, but legislators expect big benefits for the planet.

The EPA plans to establish a baseline for HFC production and consumption and then set limits for companies that make and import HFCs. Those limits would get tighter over time. This is the agency’s first major new regulation to tackle climate change under the Biden administration, and it meets a bipartisan commitment to regulate HFCs passed in Congress last December as part of the pandemic relief law.

While the industry is pushing back the use of HFCs, there is really nothing else consumers need to do with air conditioning units or refrigerators they already have. “There is a kind of misconception that is unfortunately fueled by some unscrupulous contractors that you need to change [equipment] because these refrigerants are being phased out. That’s just not the case, ”said Francis Dietz, vice president of Public Affairs of the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), an industry association.

Refrigerants generally only need to be replaced when there is a leak – it is uncommon with regular maintenance. Under the new rule, HFC production and imports must be reduced by 85 percent, meaning that enough refrigerants remain to service old equipment. Companies also recycle HFCs from decommissioned units, adding to the supply. There is a chance that the cost of HFCs will increase somewhat due to the more limited supply, but previous transitions to new refrigerants have not increased prices much in the past, Dietz says.

When people buy new equipment that uses different refrigerants, those units will look and work the same as older units. Dietz does not expect a noticeable price change either. “Right now, if you were to ask someone in the street what refrigerant is used in their air conditioner, 99.99999% wouldn’t be able to tell you. And there is no reason for people to know, because all they really need to know is that their equipment is as efficient as advertised and it is reliable, ”says Dietz. “When this transition happens, it will be seamless for consumers.”

This is not the first time the industry has had to make a change due to environmental and health concerns with refrigerants. The 1987 Montreal Protocol phased out the other refrigerants listed chlorofluorocarbons and chlorofluorocarbons those were burning a hole in the ozone layer, exposing people to more cancer-causing ultraviolet rays from the sun.

While HFCs kept the atmospheric ozone layer intact, the 2016 Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol called for HFCs also are replaced because of their impact on the climate. Biden moved to ratify the Kigali amendment earlier this year, reversing the Trump administration’s stance on it. Trade groups like Dietz’s have backed the Kigali amendment, saying it keeps US manufacturers competitive in the global market.

Air conditioners have helped keep some cities livable in a warming world, but they are also contributing to the climate crisis. In addition to burning a lot of energy, they leak HFCs that are hundreds to thousands of times more powerful greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Fortunately there are alternative refrigerants that do not increase the temperature on Earth as much. The new EPA regulations are expected to prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking one in seven US registered vehicles off the road.

According to Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), who introduced the measure to regulate refrigerants last year, phasing out HFCs and manufacturing alternatives will create “hundreds of thousands” of jobs. An alternative, hydrogen fluorolefins, or HFOs, have already begun to replace HFCs in automotive air conditioning and are not heating the planet as much as HFCs. The EPA also expects its new HFC rules to save $ 284 billion in damage from climate-related disasters and health impacts.

The step to phase out HFCs in the US is “one of the most important environmental policy laws passed in recent years,” said Karen Meyers, vice president of the Rheem Manufacturing Company (which makes air conditioners and other cooling and heating equipment). a statement. The EPA has opened a 45-day comment period on the proposed rule and plans to complete it later this year.