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Climate-friendly air conditioners are on the way

Heat-pumps and other equipment using hydrofluorocarbons will transition to alternatives in the years ahead.

Today's HFC-based HVAC systems are heavy carbon emitters.

Today's HFC-based HVAC systems are heavy carbon emitters.

Marcel Derweduwen

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in October that it’s moving forward with proposals to speed the transition away from super-pollutant hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in refrigeration, air conditioners, heat pumps, insulation and aerosols where climate-friendlier alternatives are available.

This action, taken under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act) passed last year, responds to several petitions submitted by NRDC and allies, including environmental groups, states and industry.

The petitions call for EPA to ban the use of HFCs in key applications where there are better alternatives. Air conditioners, heat-pumps and other equipment and products that rely on HFCs will transition to alternatives over the next few years. HFC alternatives are readily available, and consumers will soon have access to next-generation products with a smaller climate footprint.

What do the petitions cover?

With the October action, EPA is granting a subset of the 13 petitions submitted by various environmental groups, leadership states and industry that asked the agency to:

  • Restore federal restrictions on products that were knocked out on a technicality by a 2017 court decision. These restrictions were designed to eliminate HFCs from car air conditioners, foams and aerosols, and stop the use of the worst offending HFCs in refrigeration and chillers. Following the court decision, 10 states adopted the rules at the state level. The AIM Act provides for putting them back into place federally.
  • Make nationally applicable the limits adopted in California and Washington for big end-uses such as air-conditioning, with acceptance by the regulated industries. These standards rule out the most potent HFCs used in air-conditioning, heat pumps and commercial and industrial refrigeration.

You can learn more about each petition here and view all submitted petitions here.

Wait, didn’t EPA just finalize another HFC rule?

Yes, the HFC allocation rule, which phases down the overall HFC supply. The petitions that EPA granted last month will reduce demand for HFCs by requiring big HFC-using sectors to transition to alternatives by dates certain.

There are significant benefits in simultaneously deploying both levers. The supply phasedown will result in increased competition for HFCs among consuming sectors. Transitioning large end-uses where alternatives already exist will alleviate some of that competition for dwindling HFC supply, helping the U.S. meet the phasedown without disruptions — and maybe even faster than the current schedule.

What to expect next?

A rulemaking (or two). By granting the petitions, EPA commits to propose and finalize regulations based on a notice-and-comment rulemaking, resulting in specific requirements that may not be identical to those in the petitions. EPA must finalize the rules within two years.

NRDC will continue to work with EPA and all relevant stakeholders during the rulemaking process to ensure the prompt transition of these sectors.

But our work doesn’t end here. There’s more emissions reduction potential in reducing leaks, and recovering and reusing refrigerant from existing equipment. Watch for more on this soon.

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