It is inevitable that the growth of HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) use in industrial countries will soon level off and take a downward turn. Global climate predictions — and indeed, even current climate events — are growing ever more dire, which will increase pressure to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gasses of all types. In a sign of the times, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that insurance companies are recalculating the costs of climate change and the uncertainty that accompanies it.
Fifty-five parties (as of this writing), including Canada and the EU, have ratified the Kigali Amendment of the Montreal Protocol, which goes into effect on January 1. The United States, as yet, is not one of those parties. Further, the President has announced the withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement. When combined with the U.S. Appeals Court decision that the SNAP rules went beyond EPA authority, there is a vacuum of federal leadership to mitigate the effects of refrigerant emissions.
Into this void step several states and many localities. The U.S. Climate Alliance is a bipartisan federation of seventeen states “committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Added to this, the group Fulfilling America’s Pledge claims that more than 2,700 American states, cities, and businesses have committed to actions consistent with the Paris Agreement.
Most notable, from the standpoint of HFC refrigerant phasedown, are the actions of California and a few other states. California is in the lead here, having adopted portions of the EPA SNAP rules, primarily those dealing with commercial refrigeration and foams. Just recently, the California legislature provided the Air Resources Board with the authority to go further to reduce HFC use and to offer incentives to early adopters of low-GWP technology. We should know more about California’s specific plans in a few months.
New York Governor Cuomo has now announced that his state will phase out HFCs (notably, not “phase down,” as the international treaty calls for), with the EPA SNAP rules adopted for implementation by 2024. In some ways, the New York proposal goes further than California’s. Maryland will also promulgate rules to advantage that state. As will Connecticut. And that’s the problem. If we had federal leadership, we would have one set of rules. Now, we could potentially have 50 sets. Will each state require its own unique labeling? Varying phaseout dates? Different record keeping? The possibilities are daunting to a manufacturer. The cost to users of differing regulations could be substantial.
These four states represent one-fifth of the U.S. population and a similar fraction of its GDP. Not many HVACR companies are willing to cede that much of the market. So, there will be product offerings for California and New York and the others that will follow a similar course.
States will need to coordinate their regulations amongst themselves. It’s not certain that they will. Better still, the U.S. Senate needs to exert national leadership by ratifying the Kigali Amendment. But first, the Trump administration has to make the decision to send the Agreement to the Hill. Doing so would be a big step in protecting American technology leadership and U.S. customers. Without it, we risk forcing U.S. industry to serve two or more markets, each with very different requirements and increasing costs to do so.
In the meantime, the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, introduced by Senator Kennedy of Louisiana, would authorize EPA to issue rules that phase down HFCs through a refrigerant allowance allocation. Both of these steps — passage of Sen. Kennedy’s bill and ratification of the Kigali Amendment — would provide federal leadership and keep the U.S. in step with technology investments elsewhere.
The world is moving ahead with HFC phasedown. The question is: will U.S. leadership help us to keep up?