Refrigerants: The State of Play
Top on ACCA’s list of concerns is the refrigerant phaseout that is taking place state by state – starting with California. ACCA has published several articles and blogs and hosted webinars and in-person town hall meetings that have all provided a brief history of how we got here.
Briefly, HFC refrigerants (like R410A) are being phased-out globally because they are high global warming potential (GWP) products. Thus, while most contractors are still managing the R22 to R410A phaseout, it is time to start educating contractors, and your customers, about the next phaseout which will include refrigerants designated as A2L mildly flammable. The introduction of these will begin in California as early as 2023 – unless Congress acts.
The HFC phaseout is going to happen no matter what and the introduction of mildly flammable refrigerants is a significant concern for HVAC contractors. The 2023 introduction date for these products in the residential market in California is a problem because the UL and ASHRAE safety standards have not been completed and the codes can’t be updated until they’re done. As of press-time for this article, the 2021 codes will not allow for the introduction of A2L refrigerants because the standards will not be complete until – we think – late next year. The next opportunity for the codes to allow for the use of A2L refrigerants will be 2024 – but that doesn’t match up with California’s 2023 legal timeline. We’ll see what happens with that!
Additionally, there are states who are part of the U.S. Climate Alliance who are looking to follow California’s lead. While they plan to follow California and create HFC phaseout programs, not all states will be identical, creating a patchwork of timelines, safety and transportation protocols, and incentive programs to reduce the venting of outdated refrigerants.
Some states, like Washington, have passed laws that begin HFC phaseouts, but Washington has not yet targeted the residential marketplace. ACCA believes it is only a matter of time before they come after the residential market because Governor Jay Inslee is running for president on a climate change platform. When he served in Congress he was a zealous environmentalist, so we’re certain that the residential systems are on his list.
Efforts to oppose legislation in Washington were led by Melissa Frause of Bob’s Heating and Air Conditioning. Melissa serves as Chair of the Washington Air Conditioning Contractors Association and she testified before the legislature highlighting that a better approach reducing the impact of these products is to focus on proper installation practices and to enforce the law on illegal venting. But, politicians running for president don’t always listen to commons sense solutions.
How do we stop this state by state approach to the HFC phaseout?
Congress has to get involved and federal legislation is being drafted that could create more realistic timelines for the phaseout. Equally important, we must give EPA the authority to prohibit the sale of these refrigerants and to work with industry to create strong safety protocols. If the EPA does not have the authority to prohibit the open sale of refrigerants, consumers could be purchasing these flammable and toxic substances. Currently, it’s unclear if the EPA has the authority to do this because new products are non-ozone depleting and Section 608 of the Clean Air Act only addresses ozone depleting substances.
ACCA members believe it is important to support this federal approach to the HFC phaseout because it gives contractors a fighting chance at ensuring safety, training, and certifications are included. ACCA is
well positioned on Capitol Hill to support these efforts and have a positive impact on the outcome of a federal approach to this issue.
As of press time, the major discussions on Capitol Hill revolve around federal preemption. Many Republican Senators and conservative groups could oppose legislation if it doesn’t include preemption, which would prohibit states from creating phaseout timelines beyond what Congress authorizes. However, the environmentalists are pushing the Democrats in the House of Representatives to oppose preemption because they want to continually push states to go beyond what Congress authorizes.
ACCA’s leadership believes federal preemption is an important component of this legislation. While most states will not go beyond what Congress authorizes, the political landscape could change in the 2024 presidential election. Without preemption we could see governors or other state politicians running on a climate change agenda pushing their states to go beyond the federal timeline. Therefore, we could still be stuck with a patchwork of phaseout timelines, regulations, and even product availability.
ACCA’s Board of Directors, volunteer leaders, and staff are fighting for to ensure these phaseouts are done slowly and methodically. ACCA is agnostic on what refrigerants should be used. The priority for any product is safety and training.
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