The EPA: The Final Ruling

Jan. 1, 2010
Whatever your feelings about the R-22 replacement question, it is the EPA that has taken the lead in dealing with the issue. We provide background about the phaseout and timeline leading to the impending final ruling

In early December 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the next stage in the phaseout of HCFCs, such as R-22 from 2010-2014.

HCFC substances and products containing HCFCs will be regulated by two final rules. The first rule, often referred to as the 2010 Allocation Rule, makes allowances for the production and import of HCFCs. The second part, often known as the Pre-Charged Appliances Rule, bans the sale or distribution of pre-charged air-conditioning and refrigeration products and components containing R-22 or R-142b, according to the EPA website.

This ruling came 11 months after tremors shook the HVAC industry with the proposed rules that the EPA published in December 2008. That rule stated EPA intent that servicing existing R-22 air-conditioning and refrigeration systems would be prohibited and that the EPA would ban the sale of pre-charged products after Jan. 1, 2010.

The EPA spent the last 11 months listening to industry professionals state their cases, explaining why there should be exceptions to the rule, before coming to a final decision.

According to Talbot Gee, vice president of Heating, Airconditioning and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI), “When the initial proposed rules were released, there was a lot of confusion because the rules were not written especially clearly and inferred to an intent to prohibit the closing of refrigerant loops that required virgin R-22 after Jan. 1, 2010.”

Gee points out that, “HARDI and our HCFC Rulemaking Task Force, and many of our industry partners were very vocal on this point and prompted a public hearing in Jan. 2009. All stakeholders were pretty much in unison that this was an unacceptable potential outcome.”

Julius Banks, team lead, Refrigerant Recovery and Recycling Program for the EPA, told HVACR Distribution Business magazine that, “All groups that commented on this issue had an impact. We had numerous comments come in during our open comment period and we also received comments after the close of our comment period that were taken into consideration. We had numerous stakeholder meetings where manufacturers, chemical manufacturers, equipment manufacturers and trade organizations including HARDI spoke and presented their written comments. All of this had an impact on the EPA's decision.”

The EPA website states that the 2010 HCFC Allocation Rule sets production and import limits for 2010 through 2014 in order to meet the 2010 phasedown caps under the Montreal Protocol. During that five-year period, the rule caps total HCFC production and consumption allowances for R-22 at 50,000 ODP-[ozone-depletion potential] (metric tons) in 2010, decreasing each year towards a cap of 31,100 in 2014, to better align with the projected decrease in servicing demand and maintain the market value of reclaimed refrigerant.

The plan is to have fewer R-22 allocations each year during that five-year frame to reflect the decline in demand for R-22, and maintain market value for reclaimed refrigerant. This rule will allow the production and import of R-22 and R-142b after Jan. 1, 2010, only to service existing equipment.

The second rule is commonly referred to as the Pre-Charged Appliances Rule. This rule bans the sale or distribution of pre-charged air-conditioning and refrigeration appliances and components containing R-22, R142b, or blends containing one or both of these substances beginning Jan. 1, 2010. The rule applies to all appliances and components manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2010, but not to appliances and components manufactured before that date.

The rules work together in that the 2010 Allocation Rule prohibits U.S. manufacturers from charging newly manufactured appliances with virgin or reclaimed R-22 or R-142b beginning Jan. 1, 2010, and the Pre-Charged Appliances Rule affects the sale and distribution of products that are charged with R-22 or R-142b before being imported to or introduced into initial inventory in the United States.

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According to the EPA, between 2006 and 2008, the United States imported on average 9.5 million pre-charged air- conditioning and refrigeration appliances, including window units, upright freezers and refrigerators. That number, along with the amount of the same type of appliances that were manufactured in the United States, represents a concern for ozone layer recovery.

According to the EPA, the two rules will have the following effects on the sale, distribution and installation of air-conditioning and refrigeration products charged with R-22, R-142b or blends containing one or both of these products after Jan. 1, 2010:

  • Sale and distribution of stockpiled inventories or anything that's manufactured before Jan. 1, 2010, is still allowed. That includes self contained, factory-charged appliances such as precharged window units, packaged terminal air-conditioners and some commercial refrigeration units that are precharged with R-22 or R-142b.

  • Sale and distribution of appliances precharged with R-22 or R-142b is not allowed for appliances and units manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2010. Under the allocation rule, neither stockpiled R-22 produced before Jan. 1, 2010, nor R-22 produced after that date can be used to manufacture appliances on or after Jan. 1, 2010.

  • Sale and distribution of appliance components precharged with R-22 or R-142b is allowed if the components were manufactured before Jan. 1, 2010. The Pre-Charged Appliances Rule does not prohibit the sale and distribution of pre-2010 inventory.

  • The allocation rule prohibits the use of virgin R-22 and R-142b in manufacturing new appliances.

  • It doesn't matter whether the appliance or components contain virgin or reclaimed refrigerant; the provisions banning the sale and distribution apply equally.

  • Virgin R-22 and R-142b may only be used to service existing appliances.

  • The EPA is providing an exception to the allocation rule that allows virgin R-22 to be used in the on-site manufacture of appliances for a project between Jan. 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011, if the components have been specified in a building permit or contract dated before Jan. 1, 2010.

  • R-22 produced prior to Jan. 1, 2010, may be used until Jan. 1, 2015, to manufacture thermostatic expansion valves and medical equipment.

  • Sale and distribution of used appliances are unaffected by either rule.

Even though the rules have only been out a few days, the EPA states that the feedback has been positive. Cindy Newberg, branch chief of the EPA's Stratospheric Protection Division, tells HVACR Distribution Business: “People are very excited that the rules are out and they are now having an opportunity to review them. They can start to prepare for compliance with the rules.”

Newberg recommends checking the EPA website, for any updates or literature on the ruling.

Kate Kelly is an associate editor with Contracting Business magazine. Contact her at 216/931-9755 or [email protected].