This post co-authored with Alex Hillbrand
In a major climate protection move, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed last week a second round of cuts in the use of the powerful heat-trapping chemicals known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Issued under the Clean Air Act's "Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP)" program, the proposed rules find that alternatives are available for major applications of HFCs–refrigerants and foam blowing agents that pose much lower risk to the climate. EPA restricted some HFC applications last year.
The proposal advances President Obama's Climate Action Plan and will help the U.S. meet its climate commitments under the December 2015 Paris agreement. The new proposal also boosts prospects for agreement on phasing down HFCs worldwide under the Montreal Protocol, the treaty that saved the ozone layer and is now playing a vital role in protecting our climate.
EPA's proposal would set schedules for replacing HFCs used in building chillers, home refrigerators, cold storage warehouses, foams, and some retail food refrigeration, reflecting a recent petition for action from NRDC and the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD).
Climate-friendly HFC alternatives—including hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs), hydrocarbons, ammonia, and carbon dioxide—are available for each HFC application EPA is proposing to restrict. Worldwide, at least 500 million household refrigerators use a hydrocarbon refrigerant, achieving better energy efficiency than units now using HFC-134a. Cold storage warehouses can often use ammonia-based refrigeration, and systems will be available using lower-potency HFCs (HFC-32 and "DR-55"). New building chillers, used for cooling in large buildings and industrial facilities, will use climate-friendly alternatives such as HFO-1233zd, HFO-1234ze, HFC-32, and "DR-55."
EPA proposes to end the use of common HFCs in new building chillers by 2024, advancing an NRDC and AHRI joint recommendation by a year. EPA also proposes to transition home refrigerators away from HFC-134a in 2021, a date that corresponds with deadlines for the next round of Department of Energy appliance efficiency standards. That leaves enough time for manufacturers to design refrigerators using a hydrocarbon refrigerant (HC-600a), and time to revise Underwriters Laboratory rules that currently restrict the amount of hydrocarbons a refrigerator compressor may use.
The additional categories included in this week's proposal—cold storage warehouses, foams, and parts of retail food refrigeration—build on restrictions in EPA's previous SNAP rule and establish phase-out dates for certain HFCs between 2020 and 2023.
EPA estimates that a final rule with these provisions would prevent emissions of 9.8-11.3 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent in 2030, or the carbon pollution from driving cars about 25 billion miles. Alongside previous SNAP actions and the recently-proposed changes to Refrigerant Management Regulations, this proposal further demonstrates EPA's climate protection leadership.
In recent weeks, President Obama has notched new or renewed HFC commitments from the leaders of Argentina, Canada, and China. Montreal Protocol talks resume this week in Geneva, with the goal of inking an HFC agreement at the annual meeting of the parties in Rwanda in October. NRDC and our partners will work to translate strong action at home into a strong global agreement.