Top Issues: Refrigerants

BACKGROUND: The phase-out of ozone-depleting CFC refrigerants (like R-22) led to the introduction of HFC refrigerants (R410a for instance), which have a high global warming potential (GWP). The R-22 phase-out ends new production and import of R-22 as of January 1, 2020. After 2020, reclaimed R-22 can be used for service and maintenance for the life of the equipment.

HFC refrigerants emit potent greenhouse gasses with a high GWP and they are currently being phased-out under an international treaty, the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This treaty will need to be submitted to the Senate by the President and then ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. However, the Kigali Amendment treaty will likely not be submitted by President Trump nor ratified by the Republican-led Senate.

Without the adoption of a federal HFC phase-out, state governments are likely to create their own HFC phase-out timelines, which will likely lead to multiple inconsistent timelines. For contractors who work across state lines, they would have a difficult time keeping up with the different jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, because these refrigerants are non-ozone depleting, the EPA is questioning whether it has the legal authority to regulate the sale and handling of these products. If the EPA does not have the legal authority over these refrigerants it could lead to open-sale of refrigerants to the general public. As a reminder, Section 608 of the Clean Air Act regulates the sale and use of ozone depleting substances, which is why one must have a 608 card to purchase refrigerants. As the EPA ponders their regulatory authority, there are also concerns about selling pre-charged mini-splits to DIYers. These also bypass the EPA’s 608 regulations and could be dangerous to consumers.

The HFC (R410a) refrigerant phase-out will lead to the use of refrigerants that are non-ozone depleting and have low global warming potential. The new refrigerants are likely to include flammable products, otherwise known as A2Ls. Washington State is allowing the use of A2Ls as soon as February 2021, and their use in California is anticipated between 2023 and 2025. 

Many ACCA members believe that none of these phase-out issues would be necessary if the EPA enforced refrigerant venting, and if policy makers promote the quality installation practices, which decrease opportunities for refrigerant leaks. If installation issues are addressed and the EPA enforces the law, then there should only be a minimal amount of refrigerants released into the atmosphere.

SOLUTION: ACCA supports and secured the introduction of the AIM Act, which includes a federal approach to refrigerant phase-out schedules (otherwise known as federal preemption), as opposed to a patchwork of state phase-out schedules.

SOLUTION: ACCA is developing comprehensive training and safety protocols as we move into flammable refrigerant use. ACCA has been a longtime champion of contractor and consumer safety, and the case of flammable refrigerants is no exception.

SOLUTION: ACCA supports the EPA’s authority to regulate refrigerants and supports Congress providing the proper authority for the EPA to regulate refrigerant sales and charging and recovery protocols.

SOLUTION: ACCA supports increased funding for EPA’s enforcement programs, allowing EPA to conduct robust and equitable enforcement on those who illegally vent refrigerants.

SOLUTION: ACCA opposes the open-sale of refrigerants to unqualified/non-certified individuals.

SOLUTION: ACCA opposes the online sale of refrigerants.

SOLUTION: ACCA opposes the sale of pre-charged mini-split systems.