By David Doniger and Alex Hillibrand, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Environmental Protection Agency today announced deadlines to end certain uses of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) – powerful heat-trapping gases that significantly contribute to climate change – because safer, climate-friendlier alternatives are now available.
The EPA’s new rules affect HFCs used in motor vehicle air conditioning, retail food refrigeration and vending machines, aerosols, and foam blowing. The agency proposed the standards a year ago and finalized them today.
The new rules, issued under the Clean Air Act’s “SNAP” program (SNAP stands for “Significant New Alternatives Policy”) are a major step forward under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. They will help the U.S. meet its carbon pollution reduction target, put forward for the climate treaty negotiations concluding this December in Paris. The new rules will also boost prospects for agreement on phasing down HFCs worldwide under a separate treaty, the Montreal Protocol, and this would be a major contribution to the Paris climate deal.
Today’s action targeted some of the largest and leakiest HFC applications, including motor vehicle air conditioners, supermarket systems, aerosol propellants, and foam insulation. HFC-134a will be banned in new motor vehicles starting in 2020 (model year 2021) and replaced by a coolant with less than one percent the heat-trapping potential (HFO-1234yf). In supermarket systems–which leak faster than any other refrigeration application–R-404A, R-507A and other harmful HFC blends will be banned in new systems between 2016 and 2020, depending on the specific application.
Between 2016 and 2018 the new rules will end the use of aerosol propellants HFC-125, HFC-134a, and HFC-227ea — all potent HFCs with climate-friendlier alternatives. HFC-134a, HFC-245fa, HFC-365mfc and others agents will be banned as blowing agents for seat cushions, insulating foams, and other foam applications between 2017 and 2021.
In 2025, EPA estimates HFC emissions will be cut by the equivalent of 54-64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide – making an important contribution to meeting the U.S. climate target for the Paris treaty negotiations. HFC emission reductions will grow to 78-101 million metric tons CO2-equivalent by 2030.
In parallel, EPA approved several climate-friendlier refrigerants for use in commercial refrigeration equipment and space-cooling chillers. These compounds have less than half the heat-trapping climate impact of the HFCs they will replace. The new refrigerants include R-448A and R-449A, primarily for supermarket systems, and R-513A and R-450A, primarily for chillers and vending machines. This additional step clears the way for selling state-of-the-art building chillers. It also enables the retrofit of existing supermarket systems with climate-friendlier coolants, bringing even larger benefits than requirements applicable to new systems alone.
Today’s action is a good start on eliminating dangerous HFCs. But many other uses of HFCs remain, and the job isn’t done. NRDC will keep working to replace them with safer alternatives under the Clean Air Act and through the Montreal Protocol.