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EPA Rescinds Requirements on Super-Pollutant HFCs, Reversing Basic Safeguards on Leaks

Washington DC – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a final rulemaking to rescind requirements to limit leaks of super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants from large cooling systems like supermarkets and commercial air conditioning systems. 1

Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) issues the following response:

“In a time of acute need for action to tackle the climate crisis, the US EPA has reversed a basic safeguard against leaking super-pollutant HFCs. It is unacceptable to stand by and write a blank check for dumping these gases into our atmosphere. This flies against logic, as reducing leaks saves businesses money in addition to reducing emissions.” said Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA Climate Campaign Lead. “Fortunately, there is a global momentum to minimize use of these potent greenhouse gases now that nearly 100 countries—although not the United States– have ratified the Kigali Amendment to phase down HFCs,” she added.

“This is a disastrous reversal of a common-sense climate policy that was just a starting point for the U.S. toward doing its part in tackling the massive global opportunity to avoid nearly 100 billion tons of emissions from existing refrigerant banks,” said Christina Starr, EIA Climate Policy Analyst. “Policymakers at every level have an obligation to improve refrigerant management and disposal. U.S. Climate Alliance states, many of which are already adopting other regulations on HFCs should also take swift action on refrigerant leaks and end-of-life issues.”

The requirements rescinded by EPA applied to supermarkets, ice rinks, and other large refrigeration and air conditioning systems in commercial and industrial buildings, requiring owners of these systems to monitor HFC leaks and undertake repairs if they exceed certain thresholds. The average supermarket leaks about 25%, or thousands of pounds of refrigerant each year, which adds up to the emissions equivalent to nearly 400 cars. Reducing leak rates of all US supermarkets by 50% would mitigate approximately 15.5 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions annually in 2025 and save the average supermarket $2,400 each year on new refrigerant. 2

EIA’s two recent reports Search Reuse & Destroy: Initiating Global Discussion to Act on a 100 Billion Ton Climate Problem and Search Reuse & Destroy: How States Can Take the Lead on a 100 Billion Ton Climate Problem outline examples of existing policies and programs from around the world that can be implemented to reduce refrigerant leaks and end-of-life emissions.

Notes:

1 EPA’s National Recycling and Emission Reduction Program under Section 608 of the Clean Air Act place requirements on maintaining, servicing, and disposing of equipment using ozone depleting and high-global warming potential refrigerants including hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). The final regulation rescinds requirements with respect to monitoring and repairing leaks of HFCs in large refrigeration and air conditioning systems. It does not reverse the applicability of these requirements with respect to ozone depleting refrigerants including HCFCs, and also does not reverse other aspects of the Section 608 regulations including the prohibition on venting, sales restriction and technician certification requirements, and safe disposal requirements, which remain in effect for both HCFCs and HFCs.

2 See www.climatefriendlysupermarkets.org