Industry Waits for EPA’s Next Move Following Court Ruling on HFCs It’s too soon to know the ultimate effect of the decision on the EPA’s ability to regulate HFCs, but some say the momentum for natural refrigerants remains undiminished By Michael Garry and Charlotte McLaughlin
ndustry reaction to a federal court ruling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate HFCs has so far been reserved as the EPA and intervening defendants contemplate their next step. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled August 8 in Mexichem Fluor, Inc. v. EPA that the EPA cannot require companies to replace HFCs designated for HVAC&R equipment or other applications with low-GWP substances under the SNAP (Significant New Alternatives Policy) program. The decision specifically vacated an EPA rule released in 2015 "to the extent that [the rule] requires manufacturers to replace HFCs with a substitute substance." Some observers took this to be a challenge to the EPA’s use of the Clean Air Act to address climate change. While the ruling would appear to be a setback for low-GWP HFC replacements like natural refrigerants, several industry players said it was too soon to know its ultimate effect given the different directions the EPA can still take, including an appeal. In any event, a number of observers doubt the case can slow the momentum toward natural refrigerant technology.
“This decision is a temporary speed bump on the path to phasing down HFCs,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, climate campaign lead at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “It is not going to stop the increasing global demand for future-proof solutions.” The two plaintiffs in the case were non-U.S. manufacturers of HFCs: Mexican company Mexichem Fluor and French company Arkema SA. In February, the Trump administration, along with intervenors (the National Resources Defense Council, Chemours and Honeywell), defended the EPA in oral arguments. Chemours, Honeywell and the NRDC are also exploring an appeal. The EPA’s SNAP program, which operates under Section 612 of the Title VI amendment to the Clean Air Act, was found by the court to have exceeded its authority. The Obama administration's EPA in 2015 extended the original SNAP program – which had only dealt with the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) – to the delisting of certain HFCs, which are non-ODS but have a high global warming impact.