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The Hot and Cold of Refrigerant Management Requirements Under the Clean Air Act

By Louis A. Corio, Air Quality Project Manager


In the early-1990s, regulatory action was initiated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to control the use and release of ozone depleting substances (ODSs), including common refrigerants, and maximize the recovery and recycling of these substances. As part of this action, the USEPA issued schedules phasing out targeted ODSs. A wide variety of facilities—from public institutions to government facilities to manufacturing plants—that use refrigerants (e.g., in their HVAC systems) are subject to these requirements. In the following decades, many facilities switched to using USEPA-approved non-ODS substitute refrigerants, e.g., hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). Four years ago, regulations were promulgated by President Obama’s USEPA to phase out the use of non-ODS substitute refrigerants, such as HFCs, that could contribute to global warming. However, federal regulatory action earlier in 2020, motivated by court rulings, rolled back the phase out of, and leak repair requirements for, these substitute refrigerants. At the same time, many states have been passing their own rules to phase out the use of HFCs. This regulatory whiplash has led to confusion as to the applicable requirements for refrigerant-containing equipment owners and servicing companies.

This paper discusses the history of regulatory action on refrigerants and current regulatory landscape, including the on-going efforts at the state and federal (U.S. Congress) levels to phase down/phase out HFCs. For those entities having to address these regulatory actions (or just wanting to be good environmental stewards), this paper discusses the factors affecting decision-making with regard to switching refrigerants or replacing refrigerant-using equipment. Given the changing federal and state regulations, this paper also provides compliance guidance for owners of refrigerant-using equipment, in terms of development of a refrigerant management plan. A comprehensive refrigerant management plan that is maintained and properly implemented can provide certainty and confidence that applicable requirements are being complied with and will continue to be complied with.

This paper was presented at the 2020 Air & Waste Management Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition.

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