Walking the Talk: U.S. Agencies Finalize Rule Limiting Procurement of High-GWP HFCs

By Lowell Chandler, EIA Climate Policy Analyst and Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA Global Climate Campaign Manager

A long-awaited new rule that limits government procurement of super greenhouse gases – HFCs – has been published and is a welcome step to strengthening U.S. federal leadership in transitioning to cooling options that don’t damage the climate.

Originally proposed May 2015, the rule amends the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to implement the President’s Climate Action Plan to procure, when feasible, alternatives to high-global warming potential (GWP) HFCs. If implemented successfully, the rule will be an important tool to increase market transitions to HFC-free, low-GWP technologies and help prepare the U.S. market for a future global agreement to phase down HFCs.

As outlined in EIA’s, An Initial Guide to HFC-free Procurement and Refrigerant Management for the U.S. Government, systems using low-GWP alternatives are commercially available in a majority of end-uses, with new technologies being developed on a rapid basis for remaining end-uses. These technologies not only use alternatives with low-GWPs, but are also energy efficient, helping Federal agencies meet efficiency requirements and reduce operating costs. By creating demand of low-GWP technologies within the U.S. government and creating increased supply of these systems, broader market penetration and adoption will occur throughout the private sector, leading to decreased emissions of HFCs and increased efficiency in both the public and private sectors.

Importantly, however, this rule does not close the door on mid-range GWP HFCs and HFC blends. Potential transitions to these mid-range GWP technologies would lead to increased overall costs to the taxpayer, as government systems using these refrigerants will be required to be transitioned again. In addition to cost implications, this will result in unnecessary climate impacts by delaying transitions to efficient low-GWP technologies.

The rule also mandates where feasible, the use of reclaimed HFC refrigerants during maintenance, service, or repair of existing refrigeration equipment and air conditioners in use by the Federal government. With a healthy reclaimed supply of HFCs, it is possible to displace virgin production of HFC refrigerants, thus reducing the total quantity of HFCs in circulation and decreasing the total amount of HFCs being emitted.

Outside of the United States, governments in several other countries are considering making HFC-free procurement part of their national sustainable procurement programs, including, but not limited to Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and Japan. Over the last year, EIA has attended and presented on the suite of future-proof technologies available and the need for governments to lead by action at several United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Network Meetings of Ozone Officers, including a recent workshop on promoting public procurement of climate friendly alternatives to HFCs in Chile.

As one of the earliest proponents of a global amendment to phase-down HFCs at the Montreal Protocol, the U.S. government has demonstrated its determination by leading by example through this rule. However, the job is not done. Implementation of the mandates finalized in this rule will be critical to the country’s success and we look forward to agencies using this rule to rapidly procure the lowest-GWP technologies available on the market. As countries across the world work towards concrete action on phasing down HFCs, a quick and effective transition to the lowest GWP options available by their federal agencies will not only be good for spurring market transitions around the world, but will also be a test of their commitment.