HFC Super-Pollutants: NRDC Petitions EPA to "SNAP" Away Powerful Heat-Trapping Chemicals

NRDC and the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development (IGSD) filed a petition today with the Environmental Protection Agency to end certain uses of the super heat-trapping pollutants known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Safer, climate-friendlier alternatives have emerged for many categories of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, and for other products. So now it is time for EPA to phase down use of the older, more harmful chemicals.

Our petition asks EPA to use the Clean Air Act's SNAP program (SNAP stands for "Significant New Alternatives Policy") to set deadlines for replacing today's HFCs with safer alternatives in medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, commercial water chillers, refrigerators, portable air conditioners, home air conditioners, commercial rooftop units, cold storage warehouses, foams, and other applications. The petition covers super heat-trapping HFCs such as R-404A, R-134a, R-410A, and many more chemicals used in specific applications. Click on the chart for a summary.

Curbing HFCs under the SNAP program is an important part of the President Obama's 2013 Climate Action Plan. EPA completed a first-round SNAP rule in July - setting deadlines on the use of some HFCs in car air conditioners, retail food refrigeration and vending machines, aerosols, and foam blowing - in response to earlier petitions from NRDC and other environmental organizations. EPA recently told industry and other stakeholders that it is planning to complete a second-round SNAP rule within the next year. NRDC's and IGSD's petition seeks deadlines for ending many of the remaining HFC uses. (Another petition is also being filed today by the Environmental Investigation Agency.)

Domestic use of HFCs is expected to triple by 2030. By transitioning to safer alternatives now, we can avoid a rapidly growing source of heat-trapping pollution. In particular, our petition seeks an end to using R-410A (a blend of highly potent heat-trapping HFCs) in residential and commercial air conditioning applications. This sends a strong message to American industry that an aggressive transition to new refrigerants and more energy-efficient technology should start today.

HFC use is growing even faster in emerging markets. The United States is a strong proponent of phasing down HFCs globally under the Montreal Protocol - the treaty that saved the ozone layer from CFCs but also gave rise to HFCs as replacements. After many years, nearly all nations of the world now support proposals to phase these chemicals down under the Protocol. More than 100 countries will meet in Dubai in November, and hopefully will hammer out at least initial steps to curb HFCs.

Our petition offers a detailed timeline - dates, chemicals, and applications - that can help demonstrate that safe and energy-efficient alternatives are available and that even more will come to market soon. This will help meet the concerns of the few remaining nations that are still hesitating.

A Montreal Protocol agreement on HFCs in Dubai would be a strong boost for a climate treaty talks in Paris in December.

About the Authors

David Doniger

Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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