EPA SNAP Lawsuit and HFC Refrigerant Ban

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EPA SNAP Lawsuit and HFC Refrigerant Ban

EPA SNAP Lawsuit and HFC Refrigerant Ban

In a surprising turn of events, on April 7, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against the U.S. EPA on its 2018 guidance document for SNAP Rule 20.

This is the latest development in the EPA SNAP lawsuit, a topic that has permeated the HVAC/R industry for numerous years now, ever since the 2017 Mexichem Fluor, Inc., v. EPA (Mexichem) court decision.

How will this development on the HFC refrigerant ban in the U.S. affect your compliance and operational planning? Find out now in this post.

EPA SNAP Lawsuit Update

The 2017 Mexichem decision ultimately concluded that the EPA “lacked authority to force users who had already switched to HFCs to make a second switch to a different substitute.” It “thus vacated [SNAP Rule 20] in part and remanded to the agency.”

Thereafter, on April 27, 2018, the EPA published a guidance document—without going through proper notice-and-comment procedures—that served to “dispel confusion and provide regulatory certainty in the near-term for users … affected by the HFC listing changes in the 2015 Rule.”

This guidance document said that the “court’s decision is now in effect” (referring to the Mexichem decision) and made the following decision: “EPA will not apply the HFC use restrictions or unacceptability listings in the 2015 Rule for any purpose prior to the completion of rulemaking.” Note the adjective any in front of the word purpose, which showcases the sweeping move made.

Yes, the guidance document vacated the HFC restrictions in their entirety; by doing so, it went beyond the Mexichem decision and was done so without proper procedures. Indeed, the April 2020 court decision affirms that their decision “in Mexichem makes clear that it did not vacate the HFC listings in the 2015 Rule in their entirety.”

The court explains further that EPA’s statutory authority “extends only to regulating the initial switch” from ozone-depleting substances (e.g., CFCs & HCFCs) to HFC refrigerants; therefore, those who already made the change to HFCs cannot be required to replace again.

Thus, the latest with SNAP Rule 20 is the fact that the EPA’s 2018 guidance document went too far, and the HFC refrigerant ban in SNAP Rule 20 is not vacated in toto; it still applies to those who did not make the initial switch to HFCs.

Tracking HFC Refrigerants Remain Important

As you can see, a lot has happened in the past two years with the EPA SNAP laws. Yes, SNAP Rule 20 was partially vacated in August of 2017. And SNAP Rule 21 followed shortly thereafter in April of 2019. Then, the EPA complicated matters more with their April 2018 guidance document.

Throughout this period, some stakeholders may have assumed that tracking HFC refrigerants would become less important. But that would be glossing over the details, ignoring the regulatory uncertainty that has unfolded with various state initiatives.

It has gone as such. California adopted a new HFC regulation in 2018. Numerous states also signaled then that they would introduce their own HFC regulations to make up for the partial vacatur of SNAP Rules 20 and 21.

Indeed, some states did follow closely behind in May of 2019, including Vermont and Washington, by also adopting SNAP Rules 20 and 21. Now, even more states look to be joining the effort.

If all this regulatory activity sounds confusing to you, that’s because it is. The refrigerant geeks here at Trakref have created this infographic below to easily showcase the timeline of events on the HFC refrigerant ban in the U.S.

As a result, the EPA is not the only regulatory body now managing HFC refrigerants. Therefore, to think that tracking HFC refrigerants is less important would be mistaken—or worse, it would signal you haven’t been paying attention.

Now is the time to ensure you are properly tracking HFC refrigerants. As these various court decisions and new regulations have shown, even after a couple of years, you might find out you were supposed to be doing something you might not have been.

Not to mention, in 2024, countries around the world who have signed the Kigali Amendment, including China and Mexico, will be under a trade restriction to limit exports of HFCs, such as R-404A, R-407a, R-407c.

With such regulatory uncertainty, be cautious and track everything. If you aren’t adequately tracking your HFC refrigerants now, you could be in for a big surprise down the road.

Written by Ted Atwood
Ted is the President & CEO of Trakref, a cloud-based HVAC/R and refrigerant management software company that provides unprecedented solutions for commercial properties. He has spent more than 20 years in the HVAC/R industry, even owning and operating one of the nation’s largest refrigerant reclaim and recycling companies.

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