In a long-anticipated move backed by a coalition of business and environmental stakeholders, the U.S. government has passed bipartisan legislation authorizing a 15-year phase down of HFCs in alignment with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.
First announced in January 2020 by the U.S. House of Representatives following a similar bill in the Senate, the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM) requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to implement a phase down of the creation and consumption of HFCs in order to reach nearly 15% of their 2011-2013 average annual levels by 2036.
AIM is part of a comprehensive bipartisan legislative package, the Consolidated Appropriation Act, 2021, which includes a $1.4 trillion government spending bill and $900 billion COVID-19 relief package bill. President Trump signed the Act on December 27th, prior to being replaced by President Joe Biden on January 20th.
The American Innovation and Manufacturing Act will:
- Phase down the production and consumption of HFCs via an allowance program.
- Authorize the EPA to determine guidelines for the management of HFCs used as refrigerants through recovery, reclamation and improved servicing, repair, and disposal practices. This could reverse an EPA rule enacted in 2020 that overturned a rule extending refrigerant leak repair requirements to HFCs and HFOs for equipment containing more than 50lbs (23kg) of refrigerant, including most supermarket and industrial applications.
- Create a three-year grant program for small businesses, assigning $5 million each year toward increasing recovery and reclamation of refrigerants at end of life.
- Authorize the EPA to establish sector-based use restrictions, accelerating the transition to next-generation technologies.
Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said that for HFCs such as R404A, which consists of a blend of pure HFCs, “the allowances will be for the HFC components… So if you were producing or importing R404A, you’d need allowances for corresponding amounts of R125, R143A, and R134a.” Only the HFC portion would be subject to allowance limits for HFC-HFO blends, she added.
Getting back to Government action
By executing these measures, the EPA will restart its regulation of HFCs, which had been put on the back burner by the U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in 2017, and then by the EPA’s decision to expand upon that verdict.
Due to the lack of federal action, several states, led by California, have implemented the SNAP rules on HFCs, alongside other measures. California’s Air Resources Board approved new regulations in December that multiply the state’s refrigerant restrictions significantly, including a 150-GWP cap on refrigerants used in new commercial and industrial equipment, commencing in 2022.
Starr noted that AIM would provide a more traditional style to HFC regulation across all states, though it would not prevent California from executing its harsher provisions as they apply to refrigeration and air conditioning. Federal allocation rules would take over for niche applications deemed an “essential use” for which there are no alternatives.
In general, the AIM law, according to Starr “paves the way for the Biden Administration to increase the ambition and effectiveness of our domestic federal policy framework to reduce HFCs. It doesn’t go as far as we’d ultimately like in requiring complete elimination of these gases, but the broader authority it gives EPA to better manage and restrict HFCs throughout their lifecycle provides more tools to increase emission reductions to meet net-zero emission targets.”
AIM aligns the U.S. with the 85% phase down of HFCs required under the Kigali Amendment for developed countries by 2036. Biden has said that he will “embrace” the Kigali Amendment in his first 100 days. Biden also intends to support “refrigeration and air conditioning using refrigerants with no global warming potential.” (Ammonia (R717) is the only refrigerant with zero GWP; “near-zero” GWP refrigerants include CO2 (R744) and propane (R290)).
Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Lead for EIA, described the AIM law as “the most significant climate legislation to pass in the U.S. congress in over a decade.” Moreover, she said, “It sends a signal that one of the largest contributors to climate change, the United States, is back at the global climate action table, after four years of appalling inaction.”