ACCA Fights EPA’s Proposed Ban on Disposable Cylinders Under AIM Act
This summer ACCA submitted an official comment to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposing the agency’s proposed ban on the import, production, and use of non-refillable refrigerant tanks. The policy is part of EPA’s proposed rule under the AIM Act which sets out guidelines for the phasedown of HFC refrigerants (which include R-410A and R-32 as well as R-404A, R-134a, and R-407C) by 85 percent over the next 15 years. The proposed ban on refillable cylinders would go into effect July 2023.
If it goes into effect, the ban will impose financial and logistical burdens on contractors. Worthington Industries, one of the primary cylinder manufacturers in the United States, estimates that a complete transition from disposable cylinders to reusable ones would cost upwards of $2 billion. They also indicated that manufacturers would not have the capacity to produce enough refillable cylinders to support the U.S. HVACR industry by 2023. This would lead to a supply shortage and price spike like those contractors have recently experienced. From a logistical perspective, contractors may need to retrofit their vehicles to safely transport the new containers, which are 200 to 320 percent heavier than the disposable ones most used in today’s market. The added weight will also require more fuel to transport and place greater stress on both fleets of vehicles as well as the bodies of technicians and other HVACR professionals tasked with handling the cylinders.
A move to the exclusive use of refillable cylinders raises technical concerns regarding cross-contamination as well. Since tanks will be used and reused many times over, by many different contractors and technicians, there is no way to know exactly how a given cylinder was handled or if it was thoroughly cleaned out after its previous use. Even a small amount of contamination will impact operational efficiency, cause parts to fail, and shorten the overall life of systems. A single affected cylinder could cause harm to many different systems, spreading much like a virus. As you can imagine, the burdens and costs that this policy would impose on HVACR contractors will add up quickly. Moreover, they will be passed on to consumers and impose adverse effects on the broader industry.
On top of the potential troubles this policy would cause for contractors, there’s little evidence to suggest that it would fix one of the main problems EPA claims it seeks to address. EPA states that refillable cylinders will work to deter smugglers from bringing HFC refrigerants into the United States illegally. Recent findings show, however, that traffickers have adapted quite easily to the ban on disposable cylinders in the European Union under its F-Gas Regulation. Referring to its effect on smuggling, Daniel Michaels from the Washington Post notes that “success was short – lived, by early 2020, traffickers had shifted from smuggling truckloads of canisters to more openly importing large quantities of HFCs and then defrauding customs authorities”. The EPA proposal does acknowledge this issue, saying that US businesses complying with these new regulations such as the ban on disposable cylinders could face significant competitive disadvantages. Despite this acknowledgement, there is little comfort in the proposed solution.
Instead of punishing law-abiding contractors through burdensome regulations like a ban on disposable cylinders, ACCA believes that EPA should increase enforcement of the laws and regulations that are already on the books. If those who break the law are punished for doing so, we might see a reduction in the improper handling and use of HFC refrigerants that EPA is concerned about. The solution should not harm the broader HVACR contracting industry—especially the law-abiding contractors that do the job right.
The good news is that among all the provisions in EPA’s proposed rule, this one received the most pushback via public comments. Manufacturers, distributors, and contractors alike all raised concerns about how this would harm the HVACR industry and consumers. A final decision from EPA is scheduled to be released by the end of September (though it may be delayed). ACCA will provide membership with an update regarding the ban on disposables as well as the broader AIM Act once the final rule is published. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about ACCA’s advocacy or government relations programs, or if you would like to get involved, please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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