Federal vs. State HFC Regulation: What HVAC Techs Need to Know to Stay Compliant in 2020

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In early 2020, the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) repealed its HFC refrigerant management rules.1 However, many states are enacting their own laws to regulate HFC leak detection and recordkeeping.2 This could create some confusion in the industry because the laws governing the service of HFC equipment will likely vary across the nation.3

If you’re currently in HVAC training, keeping track of the HFC laws in your state may help you stay compliant once out working in the field.

Federal HFC Refrigerant Management Regulation Rollback

In 1987, the Montreal Protocol mandated the phaseout of the production and consumption of ozone-depleting substances.4 Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to implement the Montreal Protocol in the U.S.5

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) became the refrigerant used in air conditioners and refrigeration equipment instead of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). The problem is these organic compounds can trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to climate change.6

The EPA developed amendments to the Montreal Protocol aimed at phasing down the use of HFC refrigerants. In 2017, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the EPA could not ban the use of HFCs because the Clean Air Act covers only ozone-depleting substances, not those contributing to global warming.7

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Earlier this year, the EPA repealed its HFC refrigerant management rules, indicating it also did not have authority to regulate the use of HFCs under the Clean Air Act.1

Repealed EPA HFC Refrigerant Management Rules

The following EPA refrigerant management rules will no longer apply to HFCs:1

  • Repairing appliances that leak above a certain level.
  • Performing verification steps for repairs.
  • Inspecting appliances for leaks.
  • Reporting appliances that are constantly leaking refrigerants to the EPA.
  • Retiring or retrofitting unrepaired appliances.
  • Maintaining adequate records.1

Industry Response to HFC Leak Repair Rollbacks

Many manufacturers and HVAC professionals are critical of the EPA’s repeal of HFC refrigeration management rules. The HVAC industry worked with the EPA to clarify regulations when extending the rule to include HFCs refrigerants.3

Several companies turned the rules into best practices for their staff and are concerned about the cost of changing training manuals, textbooks, training programs and accreditation.3

With the rollbacks, HVAC industry members worry this is only the first step in eliminating all of the rules for HFCs. They fear a complete rollback of HFC regulations could take a toll on technician training and the energy efficiency and servicing of HVAC equipment.3

Another major concern for the HVAC industry is inconsistent regulation across the country because some states are enacting their own HFC laws:3

“If states enact regulations individually, regulations could potentially vary widely from state to state. This could create problems for the industry and lead to a patchwork of inconsistent regulations that would be challenging for manufacturers and service providers to navigate,” explained John Wallace, the director of innovation at Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions.3

States Enacting HFC Rules

Despite federal rollbacks of the HFC leak repair and maintenance rules, states across the country are legislating their own HFC regulations.2

California passed legislation in 2018 to limit HFCs. Washington State and Vermont followed suit, enacting HFC use limits based on the EPA’s SNAP rules. Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and New York have committed to add HFC regulations to their exiting anti-pollution laws.2

Twenty-four states have joined the U.S. Climate Alliance, and many of them are expected to pass HFC laws too.2

Keeping Up with HFC Rule Changes

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Since every state could have its own HFC legislation soon, HVAC techs may benefit from following changes to both federal and state laws. Doing so could help them stay compliant when working on refrigeration and air conditioning equipment.

Changes to the EPA’s and states’ regulation of HFCs aren’t the only important industry developments to pay attention too, either. This year marks another milestone in the R-22 phaseout, and techs planning on working with this refrigerant may want to read about the latest updates.

Additional Sources

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